Heck of a Family: Story of Championship Lineage


Courtesy of Leslie Barbaro

Heck of a Family: Story of Championship Lineage

David Jarman

April 2nd, 2018 will be a day that all Villanovans will remember, especially for 76ers President Chris Heck. Not only did he get to celebrate his alma mater’s men’s basketball team winning its second National Championship in three years, but he was able to see his son Peyton cut down the nets as a member of the team. 

“It’s something I will never forget,” Heck said. “It was a moment that you can only dream about. When you see your child run out in front of 70,000 people in a dome stadium on the largest platform in college basketball, fast-forward a couple hours where you see him cut down the nets and be one of 15 guys that are literally the best in the world at what they are doing, for him to be a part of that team, it’s unthinkable. I would add on to that, the humility on that team lived and lives and downplays their accomplishments is a great lesson in life. I learned a lot from them too, but the pride is beyond description.” 

While reminiscing a day that will never be forgotten in his family, Heck was able to compare Payton’s successful journey with his own. 

“It’s an interesting comparison,” Heck said. “The one common theme there is that you don’t do it alone. You rely on family friends, build relationships, and trust and loyalty and good things happen. I think that is the great lesson in this journey.” 

Heck’s journey started outside of Washington D.C., where he loved sports right away as a youth, playing football, basketball, and lacrosse. When he was a freshman in high school, he watched his then future college defeat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game. At the time he was a Georgetown fan, but he admired the ‘perfect’ performance that Rollie Massamino’s bunch displayed against the Hoyas. 

“Georgetown played the near perfect game, but Villanova played the perfect game,” Heck said as the Wildcats only missed one of its 10 field goals in the second half. 

The ’85 game played a minor role into Heck’s decision on where to attend college. On top of its men’s basketball team’s reputation, Heck liked Villanova’s location, class size, and what it represented in the community.

“I liked the proximity to where my home was in D.C.,” Heck said. “I liked the size of the school, the Catholic community that it represented. It was so much more than I ever expected when I got there. I’m still very tight and lifelong friends, (and not to mention), my two oldest kids are students there now. My experiences at Villanova have helped shape who I am today.” 

While participating on the lacrosse, rugby, and boxing teams on campus, Heck aspired to work in marketing and advertising. Rather than earning a business or a marketing degree, Heck earned his in English and credits it for his achievements. 

“The idea of going in that direction was stemmed from being able to learn how to communicate, how to sell, how to talk, manage and lead. I believe that it starts with your fundamental skills of the English language. That was a great foundation for me.” 

One particular skill Heck was able to learn and conquer was public speaking. 

“I’ve spoken to large audiences before, with sometimes more than 500 people,” Heck said. “I look forward to public speaking, which was not the case going into or during college. As much as I do business throughout the day and night in my career, my English background comes in hand.” 

After graduation Heck earned his first full-time job, with the Frederick Keys, the Class-A Minor League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. With the Keys he learned right away that in order to succeed in sports, you need to ‘wear multiple hats;’ as he sold sponsorships, ran the team’s box office, and served as the Keys’ public relations director— all at the same time. He then worked for a sports marketing firm, followed by the Eagles and the Miami Heat. When he found out about an opportunity to work with Villanova Athletics, handling their corporate partnerships at the senior level, it was a job he could not refuse. In his four years working with Villanova (2000-2004), Heck was able to learn more skills and overcome different challenges that he never faced before, at that stage of his career.   

“I think that [working in] sports is a little bit different,” Heck said. “Working in college sports is even more different. It’s a double down on the emotional tie to a place. When you are selling advertising and marketing products through an emotional outlet, it’s a great thing and a tricky thing too.” 

Heck learned there were some difficulties when finding the right person or business to sell a Villanova Sports property too. For example, if he spoke with someone who went to Georgetown or Saint Joseph’s, it was tricky because it could potentially interfere with an individual’s personal beliefs and their business.  

“It’s a harder concept to buy into, particularly with a private school and a Catholic school,” Heck said. “When talking sports and sports partnership, it’s very localized with a smaller property, like a college team. When you have your alumni who work in New York, Boston, or D.C., it makes it even that much harder. There are a lot of hurdles, but on the flip side when you do find someone who went to Villanova and believes in it, understands it, and have it help their business, you found a real match that works. Villanova is so unique, it allows for you to do more. So, I felt as engrained into the faculty, the staff, and the direct community as opposed to an outside vendor.”  

While at Villanova, Heck was able to show his creativity. Though there was a limited amount of space at the (old) Pavilion, he was able to establish an area of the arena overlooking the corner of the basketball court. The area functioned similar to a hospitality tent at golf outings and was beneficial for both corporate clients and Villanova’s revenue.  

“It was a unique angle because Villanova never outsourced their sports marketing before,” Heck added. “The fact that I am a Villanovan and had the background of that industry was a pretty unique opportunity for me. I loved doing it and I learned a lot, did a lot, and then, like a student, it was time to go.”  

After his time working at Villanova, Heck became the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Departments for the NBA, working for high profile professionals like former NBA Commissioner David Stern, and current commissioner Adam Silver. At the NBA, he had a staff of 16 that worked closely with all 30 NBA teams in selling tickets and sponsorships. With his skillset and experience, NBA team overall annual sponsorship revenue increased by double digits annually from 2004-2008, with a 17 percent increase from the 2006-07 to 2007-08 seasons. According to a 2008 article from the Sports Business Journal, Heck did so well that Adam Silver called him “The Professor” because of the methodical way he approached the NBA’s business. 

The irony of the nickname was he served as an adjunct marketing professor both at Villanova and Columbia University. It was that same year that he was named to Sports Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list. After a brief stint as President of Business Operations for the New York Red Bulls, his good friend and fellow Villanova alum Scott O’Neil recruited Heck to join the Sixers. From the first day of freshman orientation in August of 1988, O’Neil (current CEO of the Sixers) and Heck have become great friends, all because of Villanova.   

“We have known each other a very long time,” Heck said. “We have a very unique and special relationship. We have a strength that is forged by Villanova and through Villanova that has helped us in our careers and our personal lives. A relationship that I cherish through 25 years plus in my career, but I will cherish for the rest of my life.” 

As President of the Sixers, Heck oversees the day-to-day business operations for the team, tasked with the goal to rejuvenate the sales side and help market the Sixers’ brand. Under Heck’s leadership, the Sixers have become one of the top three NBA brands in the world. He is the innovator behind a multitude of projects including: the team’s pre-season games against the Mavericks in China, the “Phila Unite” campaign in the 2018 playoffs, the “City Edition” jerseys, and secured the first jersey patch in “big four” sports history along with developing an industry-ticketing platform with its partner, Stubhub. A lot of the team’s success deals with his vision of #OnBrand, which is seen on Heck’s social media accounts.  

“It is a pleasure, a great responsibility and it’s an obligation to the fans, Philadelphia, and to the franchise,” Heck said about his job. “You have a storied franchise that maybe was forgotten for some time and we have an opportunity to bring it back to life. We have an incredible staff full of young, talented people that do things in an exceptional manor.    The attention to detail is paramount. What you see with the #OnBrand is many extensions of what we do and what the result is. It could be something in the community that offers positive change, a fan interacting with a player, or a logo that makes our fashion sense more unique and interesting to the world, not just Philadelphia. It’s not just a logo or a uniform, it’s every aspect of the world that we touch through the 76ers for positive change.”

His most recent project for the Sixers is building a facility in Wilmington, Delaware for the team’s G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats. With additional basketball courts and turf fields, the new facility will serve as the home for the Blue Coats and the youth in the Wilmington Community. 

“When my children were playing travel-level sports, we would drive to Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In Delaware, where we live, we did not have any of those facilities,” Heck said.”After meeting with Scott O’Neil and other like-minded civic leaders, not only did we want to solve a problem for having a home for the Blue Coats but extending that by helping out the youth and community of North Delaware; giving kids an opportunity to aspire to play in a place that was at a professional caliber.” 

Through the Augustinian value “Caritas,” Heck’s Villanova background played a part in building a facility for the Blue Coats and giving back to the Delaware youth sports community. 

“I would say Villanova has it in their DNA and so do we,”Heck said. “It goes well into the larger organization of the 76ers, which is under the HBSE Umbrella, the Harris-Blitzer Sports and Entertainment (owners of the Prudential Center, the New Jersey Devils, etc). We have all these properties, and they give us a platform to do good. Not only to we try to be smart business people, but we also try to make a difference in the world.”