Andy Marlin/Getty Images
EXECUTIVES & ENTREPRENEURS INVESTMENTS

How David Blitzer Built it

From the front office to the front row, David Blitzer has become a serious name to know in the business of sports. Learn how the Blackstone vet became a power player in every arena.

Do a Google Image search for David Blitzer and you’ll see his likeness in front of some of the most recognizable logos in sports. He’s standing at the podium, sitting through pressers, and walking on ice or hardwood, flanked by the likes of Allen Iverson and the late David Stern.

If the guy seems to be everywhere, that’s because he is.

Blitzer is known for his investments in the Philadelphia 76ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Jersey Devils, Cleveland Guardians, and four professional soccer clubs. He’s the first person with an equity stake in the five biggest US professional sports leagues.

But how did it all come to be?

Like we see from prime movers in any industry, the man they call Blitz spent years sharpening his skills, developing his expertise, and indulging his curiosity throughout the course of his ascent. 

Prep to Pro

Just as the star players on Blitz’s Sixers squad developed their games at Duke or Kansas, Blitzer honed his craft at the prestigious Wharton School of Business.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the graduate program from which Blitz graduated magna cum laude in 1991, is renowned for shaping some of the most brilliant minds in business. During Blitzer’s time on campus, Wharton became the first business school to form an International Executive Advisory Board; the scool’s ability to generate and execute big ideas both domestically and abroad was a fitting primer for what Blitzer was about to do himself.

Upon graduating, Blitzer joined Blackstone, an alternative investment firm in New York City, where he still works today. Blackstone, established only six years prior to his arrival, proved fertile ground for Blitzer’s business acumen to flourish. 

Famously, he helped start and lead Blackstone’s European private equity business, taking him to England from 2001-11. During that decade, he had the ability to connect with his chosen high school sport — soccer — planting the seeds to own association footballl clubs in his future.

Currently, Blitzer serves as the Global Head of Blackstone’s Tactical Opportunities group. The Tac Opps team invests all around the world in varying industries and asset classes, finding and executing on an array of investment opportunities, as the name suggests. 

From a performance standpoint, it’s reported that the Tac Opps team has delivered a realized return of 1.8x.

“We spend a lot of time looking around corners,” Blitzer told Bloomberg in 2019.

On top of leading the Tac Opps team, he is also a member of Blackstone’s Management and Operating Committees.

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

Get on our list for sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

By making his mark in many markets, Blitzer became a marquee member of the 37-year-old investment firm that now manages $650 billion worth of assets and owns 250 companies.

As Marc Rubinstein points out on the Beyond Buyouts Podcast, Blackstone has been savvy enough to diversify into real estate, hedge funds, corporate private equity, credit, and other alternative assets since starting in 1985. Because of this, Blackstone is boutique in branding yet still offers impressive integration and scale.

Much like the company he works for, Blitzer impresses with his reach and relationships. One could say he’s diversified his investments just the same as his employer, seen recently by his rapid growth in the sports world.

The Team Player

At the time of this writing, Blitzer owns stakes in a slew of high-profile professional sports franchises.

While Blitz is best known for his ownership role in the Philadelphia 76ers and his majority stake in the New Jersey Devils, he also has a hand in multiple futbol clubs, as well as ownership interest in e-sports and Minor League Baseball.

Naturally, much of this knowledge came from his day job at Blackstone. However, his consistent work with Apollo Global Management Co-Founder Joshua Harris led the two partners to form Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, for which Blitz serves as Co-Managing Partner and Co-Chairman. 

“We take pride in hiring the best and brightest talent from a variety of backgrounds and industries with the goal of shaping a well-rounded, dynamic organization,” Blitzer told NBC Sports. “HBSE provides a unique opportunity to harness the power of our talented management team and our shared resources to fuel growth and expansion, and a means to accelerate and sustain long-term success.”

This has proven true. Both the Sixers and Devils, which live under the HBSE umbrella, have increased their value dramatically since Blitzer came on board.

Case in point: Blitz bought into the Sixers in 2011 with a winning bid of $280 million. According to Forbes, the Sixers are now worth $2.5 billion. A similar spike has been seen in his investment in the Devils, bought for $320 million in 2013 and now valued at $775 million.

For years, many viewed owning professional sports teams as a vanity piece, similar to acquiring fine art. Owning teams was something to look at and talk about among the affluent, subject to appreciate in value but not viewed as a year-over-year sensation.

Blitzer, on the other hand, saw these franchises essentially as content companies and scarce assets. With the demand for digital media ascending, pro sports audiences going global, and the number of franchises staying mostly stagnant, Blitz saw an opening in the market and seized it.

“Player engagement with their global fan base has absolutely exploded in the age of social media,” Blitzer told Bloomberg Businessweek at the NBA Tech Summit in 2019. “Each year it grows so dramatically.”

Just like at his day job, Blitzer is looking around corners to find new opportunities.

His acquisition of e-sports franchise Dignitas in 2016 was forward-thinking while this year’s leap into Major League Soccer makes one wonder just what’s next for the global game in the US.

Needless to say, the future of Major League Soccer will be assisted by proven leadership as Blitzer recently teamed up with Utah Jazz governor Ryan Smith to become co-owners of Real Salt Lake.

“This was clearly the market that I wanted to make an investment in,” Blitzer told Deseret. “Luckily I was able to get together with Ryan Smith and his team. We came together and decided to partner, do this and invest in Real Salt Lake.”

By combining his business management experience and relationship equity, Blitzer continues to leverage his learnings and his connections to develop new business.

While the Real Salt Lake acquisition was said to have happened “pretty quick,” the tale of the tape shows’ Bliz’s long and steady ascent.

The Rise of Blitz

David Blitzer didn’t become a success overnight. 

Here’s a timeline of some of the key moments and moves that made Blitz one of the most respected players in the worlds of sports, business, and entertainment.

1991: Graduated magna cum laude from Penn’s Wharton School of Business
1991: Started at Blackstone
2001: Moved to England to build Blackstone’s European private equity business
2007: Blackstone goes public
2011: Blitzer returned to the United States
2011: Purchased Philadelphia 76ers as member of investment group
2013: Purchased majority stake in New Jersey Devils
2014: Founded Blitzer Family Foundation with wife Allison to support youth development
2014: Purchased 50% interest in New York Yankees AAA affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders with David Abrams
2015: Took controlling stake in London soccer club Crystal Palace FC with Joshua Harris and Steve Parish
2016: Purchased esports organization Dignitas with Joshua Harris
2017: Formed Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment
2018: Formed Elevate Sports Ventures in partnership with CAA and the San Francisco 49ers
2020: Blitzer and Harris acquire minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers
2022: Became co-owner of Real Salt Lake with Ryan Smith

What’s Next?

As a child, David Blitzer grew up playing soccer, skiing in Utah, and cheering for Magic Johnson.

As an adult, he’s got his own team in Salt Lake and sits at the same tables as Earvin the Entrepreneur where pro sports are concerned.

“I was one of those fake or failed athletes growing up, but I was a massive, massive sports fan as a little kid and all the way until today,” Blitzer told his alma mater. “But I would never make an investment just for the fun side of the equation.”

By approaching every opportunity as a business decision while still sharing the spirit of a fan, Blitzer is able to staff each franchise he owns with the same approach as his day job at Blackstone.

“It’s incredibly similar,” Blitzer said at Wharton on the parallels between his role as an owner and leader of Tac Opps. “At the end of the day, you hire the best people at every position and you give them the room to do their jobs.”

Because of this, Blitzer is ahead of the curve in regard to implementing data and analytics into his sports enterprises the same way he makes the most of numbers and trends at Blackstone.

This is perhaps best seen by the Sixers’ hire of longtime Rockets front office boss Daryl Morey as President of Basketball Operations, though it’s said these same approaches will be taken in some form or fashion to his investments in hockey, esports, and soccer.

In 2022, Blitzer is taking his business background and international exposure to make a splash in soccer, specifically. While the global game has long lived in the US as a commonly played sport, the viewership of the MLS does not compare historically to that of the NFL, NBA, or major overseas leagues.

Blitzer may have a chance to change that.

“I’ve lived in many different places and many different countries,” Blitzer shared at his introductory press conference for Real Salt Lake. “Having invested in a variety of sports teams, but with soccer teams I have a view that over time there are benefits to that equation. This market just got larger in a sense that it can touch the UK, Germany, or some of those other soccer markets. I don’t know what that means but my sense is there’ll be benefits.”

Shortly after acquiring Real Salt Lake and making those statements, the franchise made the news on major media outlets by signing the youngest homegrown player in MLS history in Axel Kei.

American soccer rarely makes headlines on SportsCenter, but only days into Blitzer steering the ship, it did.

As 2022 continues, don’t be surprised if you keep seeing Blitzer the Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment names pop up when it comes to even more acquisitions.

Already, Blitzer is being named as a contender to purchase a minority stake in the MLB’s now-rebranded Cleveland Guardians. The reported 35% share in the squad once known as the Indians is said to include a path to eventual majority control. This means a lot when considering the rebrand going on with one of baseball’s oldest franchises and the future of the sport as it continues to connect with a younger audience.

Best believe that if Blitzer buys in, he has a plan.

By making the most of the media rights and scarcity value tied to professional sports, the kid who wanted to own the Sixers since he was seven is adding tangible value to teams in all arenas.

Forever a fan, always a lifelong learner, Blitzer will continue to take the lessons learned from his wins and losses to emerging markets and new arenas.

Charismatic and curious, he’s the type of guy you’d love to talk to and clearly the type of person who listens. 

“He’s an incredible husband, an incredible father and he’s the smartest guy I’ve ever been in a room with,” Sixers and Devils CEO Scott O’Neil told Wharton in 2019.

Don’t be surprised if you start seeing Blitzer enter even more rooms and arenas down the road.

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

Get on our list for sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

Subscribe

Enter your email below