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NHL's Devils sold to owners of Philadelphia 76ers

New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks to the media while he attends an NHL hockey news conference announcing the new owner
New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks to the media while he attends an NHL hockey news conference announcing the new owner

By David Jones

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A pair of private equity executives who own a majority of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team on Thursday reached a deal to acquire the New Jersey Devils hockey team and its arena.

Joshua Harris and David Blitzer bought the team from former owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek. They declined to disclose the purchase price, though The Record newspaper of New Jersey valued the deal at $320 million.

The deal ends weeks of negotiations between Harris, the National Hockey League and a financially strapped franchise that was struggling to meet its obligations to its lenders and had a fractured relationship with local officials, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the new ownership would help the revitalization of this city.

"We're now at a point in time ... where two terrific people are going to take the foundation that has been put in place and take it to the next level," Bettman told a press conference.

Harris, a billionaire managing director at Apollo Global management, and Blitzer, a senior managing director at Blackstone, led a group that acquired the NBA's 76ers in 2011 for about $280 million.

The Devils have played in the Newark-based Prudential Center since 2007, when they relocated from East Rutherford, New Jersey. The arena, championed by former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, has struggled to turn a profit due in part to a large number of competing sports and entertainment venues in the New York metropolitan area.

Billboard magazine rated the arena as the eighth-highest grossing worldwide for the first half of 2013. However, the venue, known as "The Rock," has struggled to generate enough revenue, particularly since the departure of the NBA's Nets to nearby Brooklyn.

(Additional reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Scott Malone, Dan Whitcomb, Catherine Evans, Maureen Bavdek and Dan Grebler)

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