Information and reporting on this story by Kevin Kinkead, Anthony SanFilippo, and Russ Joy
Crossing Broad was told recently, via multiple sources, that Comcast-Spectacor was considering layoffs and furloughs prior to the end of the fiscal year (June 30th) and maybe as soon as the end of May. This would come after the company was able to keep employees working through the COVID-19 pandemic by tapping into personal and vacation time.
No final decision had been made, but our sources indicated that this was the company’s thinking with just two weeks remaining before the end of the month.
When contacted Monday, a Comcast-Spectacor spokesperson denied that, saying that there would be no batch layoffs or furloughs for Flyers or Comcast-Spectacor employees prior to July 1st, the start of the new fiscal year, related to the COVID-19 shutdown.
“There are no plans for furloughs or layoffs at Comcast-Spectacor or the Philadelphia Flyers,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Several employees indicated to Crossing Broad that they were starting to become worried about what was going on with the company because work-from-home orders were only scheduled through this past Friday, May 15. A subsequent update on May 12 extended those orders through the 29th of the month.
“That’s the day they (planned) to let people know that they are either being laid off or furloughed,” said one Comcast-Spectacor source. “It makes sense. It’s a Friday. It’s the end of the month and the end of a pay period.”
That decision would have doubly stung, because while the Flyers have continued to pay 100% of employee salaries, they’re doing it by using personal and vacation time to account for one day per week, according to some of those impacted by the decision. Under normal circumstances, workers who are laid off are compensated based on unused time off, which is already being tapped into during the pandemic.
But if the company is to be believed and layoffs are off the table for now, it could mark the second time that Comcast/NBCUniversal CEO Brian Roberts has saved the day for Flyers and Spectacor employees in the past couple months.
When the Coronavirus pandemic first hit, the NHL and the NBA paused their season and concerts were cancelled, shuttering the Wells Fargo Center. There were high-level discussions about how to continue business operations, especially for the Flyers and Comcast-Spectacor, since those were the two entities most directly impacted by all the shutdowns and closures.
The primary decision makers for these branches of the company are Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Dave Scott, Valerie Camillo, President of Business Operations for the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center, and Michael Shane, Chief Business Officer for the Flyers and the Wells Fargo Center. However, whenever a major financial decision needs to be made, Roberts has to sign off.
Many NHL teams have had some sort of salary reduction, furloughs or layoffs that have resulted from the pandemic. Even the NHL itself has cut salaries and reduced staff at league offices.
In a league that is so gate-driven, these unfortunate scenarios are hard to avoid.
However, any notion of potential layoffs or furloughs for the Flyers or Comcast-Spectacor was quickly squashed by Roberts, who, on April 1, committed $500 million to support employees as Coronavirus quarantines temporarily shut down business units.
In an email sent to employees, Roberts said Comcast would put aside that amount for pay and benefits for employees “where operations have been paused or impacted.” This action saved jobs for many employees across the country, including those who work for the Flyers and Comcast-Spectacor.
But as time dragged on, and with revenue declining, NBCUniversal sent a staff memo on May 5 announcing pay cuts for senior management amounting to 20 percent while reducing pay by three percent for employees making more than $100,000.
This action, coupled with the ever-growing list of staff reductions around the NHL, left employees of Comcast-Spectacor and the Flyers wondering if they would be next.
That brings us to the hiring of a new Senior Vice President of Marketing.
Last week a tipster alerted us to this report out of North Carolina in the Fayetteville Observer announcing that the president of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, 32-year-old Mark Zarthar, was leaving the team to take a front office job with the Flyers.
From reading the report, it seems like Zarthar did a bang-up job in Fayetteville, and took a brand new franchise and turned it into something the community rallied behind and supported. Awesome. The Flyers’ marketing efforts are in dire need of help, and maybe Zarthar will turn that around in the coming years.
However, the Flyers to this point have not put out a press release announcing the hire. According to multiple sources within the organization and Comcast-Spectacor, there hasn’t yet been an internal announcement either. Employees we told about Zarthar were surprised by the news.
Announcing Zarthar’s hire to a position that is comfortably into the six-figure salary range, in the middle of a pandemic, while the rest of the employees are being forced to burn their vacation and personal time just to continue getting the same paycheck each week, might be a bad look internally.
It’s likely why they wanted to wait until June to make the announcement and have him start in July, as part of the new fiscal year. Additionally, they hoped to hold off until after the state and more specifically the city of Philadelphia started reopening and hopes of a plan for the resumption of the paused NHL season had also been put in place.
But the opposite could also be true. Maybe it’s a positive sign that the company would be able to continue to hire during a global pandemic, when other businesses have ground to a halt. One could view it as a flickering ray of hope, a solid hire to replace former VP Joe Heller, who left in 2019 to take a similar role with the Philadelphia Conference and Visitors Bureau.
(A request for comment confirming Zarthar’s hire and asking about the delayed announcement went unanswered by the organization)
This isn’t the first time the Comcast-Spectacor brass had to weigh the option of staff reductions amidst a work stoppage.
However, in 2012, during the NHL lockout, the notion of laying off or furloughing Flyers employees never had to make it to Roberts’ desk. That’s because Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider tasked his executives to find other roles within the business so employees could keep their jobs.
Scott has made it very clear that he is not Ed Snider and would run this company differently than in the past. As such, it’s not a surprise that since he took over as chairman a lot of the people who had key business roles for the Flyers during Snider’s watch were either fired or pushed aside as other hires were brought in to basically do their job.
On March 24, the Philadelphia 76ers, who are only tenants of the Wells Fargo Center and are owned by Harris-Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, announced that they (along with the New Jersey Devils, who are also owned by the same company) would be slashing salaries of employees making more than $50,000 annually by up to 20 percent from April 15 through June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year.
There was significant blowback from the public and the media to this news, and within 24 hours the Sixers reversed course, apologized publicly for not thinking it through, and in turn started using the financial resources at their disposal to help those in need during the pandemic.