Six months into Dan Hilferty’s retirement from the CEO post at Independence Blue Cross, his wife noticed the restlessness. “He wasn’t ready to step back,” says Joan Hilferty. “Both of us had relatives who lived a long time, and they didn’t step back.”
In the spring of 2021, the couple was enjoying a glass of wine when Dan’s phone rang. It was David Cohen, fresh from his nomination as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada. That would mean stepping away as the frontman for Philadelphia’s bid to host soccer games during the 2026 World Cup. Reps from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, would be in town for a site visit in about a week or so. Was Hilferty interested in the job?
Hilferty had started a consulting company and was dabbling in some investing. And though he was intrigued by Cohen’s offer, he was worried about getting “sucked back into the vortex of the 24/7 world.” He asked Joan what she thought.
“You need something,” she told him. “This is good.” So the Ardmore resident went to work, leading a top-flight team in pursuit of a lofty goal. He marshaled city, region and state officials, the corporate community and sports big shots like Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to convince FIFA that Philadelphia deserved a spot in the ’26 lineup. “We took the traditional Philadelphia underdog approach,” Hilferty says. “We raised more money than anyone else and were more organized than anyone else.”
On June 16, 2022, Philadelphia became one of just 11 U.S. cities hosting World Cup games. Eight months later, Hilferty became CEO of Comcast Spectacor and governor of the Flyers. “We talked about that one for about a month,” says Joan, laughing.
Over the past 30-plus years, Hilferty, 66, has become one of the region’s best-connected and most admired leaders. His ability to build coalitions has served him in everything he’s done, doing so in a way that doesn’t scream, “I’m in charge!” After Greg Deavens was announced as the next top exec at Independence Blue Cross, he sat down with the outgoing CEO in a conference room to go through Hilferty’s crucial contacts. “I thought I knew all of them, but I was astounded by all the relationships he had,” Deavens says.
When asked about that day, Hilferty is quick to point out that the list was the product of his management team. “It was a Rubik’s Cube, a 3-D chess board of relationships built through trust and used for the many people we’re trying to serve,” he says.
Hilferty is one of the warmest people Gregg Caren has ever met. “He’s also one of the brightest,” says the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau president. “He’s endearing, but he has the clout necessary to tell people what to do.”
After his father died when he was 2, Daniel Joseph Hilferty was raised by his mother and three older sisters, graduating from St. Augustine Preparatory School, not far from where he grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey. “Dan was brought up by a lot of nice, fun and funny women,” his wife says.
After earning his accounting degree from Saint Joseph’s University and a master’s in public administration from American University in Washington, D.C., Hilferty ran a community center for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Portland, Oregon. There, he was able to feed his love for basketball while working on youth development and helping seniors. “I had four years of Jesuit education at Saint Joe’s, and I needed to explore, as the Jesuits say, ‘doing more for others,’” Hilferty says.
Hilferty considers his subsequent move to healthcare administration a “natural progression.” Aside from his role at Independence Blue Cross, his resume includes stops at Misericordia Hospital (Mercy Philadelphia Campus) and Keystone Mercy Health Plan (now AmeriHealth Caritas). At the latter job, Hilferty was key in implementing the Healthy Hoops, an educational program for members whose children suffer from chronic asthma. It began in a gym in West Philadelphia and has since expanded to every market AmeriHealth Caritas now serves, making an impact on at least 8,000 families.
By 2010, Hilferty was at Independence Blue Cross, helping to pioneer programs that went beyond a health insurance provider’s basics. One, Someone You Know, focused on providing those battling addiction with tools and support to regain their footing and move forward in their recoveries. That kind of empathetic approach to healthcare matched Hilferty’s own caring touch with his employees. “There were times when I rode up and down the elevator with Dan, and no matter who was on with him, he had something to say to them,” Deavens recalls. “He’d ask how their weekend was. He knew everybody.”
Hanging on the wall to the right of Hilferty’s desk at Wells Fargo Center is a painting of a Flyers team lined up on the ice before a game against the Chicago Blackhawks during their last appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. Standing in the middle is celebrated winger Danny Brière, who’s now the team’s general manager. “That used to be right next to the elevator,” Hilferty says. “But I had it moved in here.”
Hilferty is a lifelong Flyers fan. When he was at Saint Joe’s, he skipped class to celebrate at the parade after the Flyers won the 1975 Cup. Now, he joins Brière, new team president (and former Flyer) Keith Jones and coach John Tortorella in an ambitious rebuild of the franchise. They’re focused on improving the product on the ice while trying to reengage a somewhat disaffected fan base. “Dan’s energy is contagious,” Brière says. “You just sit with him and get energized. You want to work so hard for him. That contagious energy is so cool. He comes into a room, and everybody smiles. You can tell he cares. He wants to rebuild this the proper way.”
Given their recent struggles, there’s no guarantee the Flyers will turn it around, but the team’s strong start this season is a promising sign. Hilferty has already made an impact on the franchise’s culture. “He changed the entire atmosphere in five months,” says former longtime Flyers broadcaster Steve Coates, a good friend of Hilferty’s. “He reenergized the whole group.”
Hilferty had known Comcast chairman Brian Roberts for several years before connecting with him in any tangible way. After his time at Independence Blue Cross, Hilferty joined Episcopal Academy alum and former Philadelphia Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney to stage the HealthKey Summit at the Comcast Innovation Center in November 2022. Hilferty asked Roberts if he’d give a greeting to help kick off the event. Roberts proposed a fireside chat—and that encounter led to an invite to join Comcast. “I always thought I wanted one more adventure,” Hilferty says.
Undoubtedly, he’s got that now. Serving as Comcast Spectacor’s chief executive, he’s marshalling Wells Fargo Center’s $400 million renovation. He hopes it will convince the 76ers to abandon their Chinatown arena project and join the Flyers—and eventually the Phillies and Eagles—in a “multiuse area that’s attractive to people,” he says. “[It would include] dining, maybe the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, a hotel.”
It’s an ambitious goal, but Hilferty faced what many consider long odds when he took over the World Cup bid. Cohen did great work in service of the city’s aspirations, but it was his successor who closed the deal. “He was really the perfect guy at the perfect time,” says Larry Needle, executive director of PHL Sports, which works to attract sporting events to the region. “When we needed him most, he stepped in.”
When Hilferty was a senior in college, he took a spring break trip to New Orleans with best friend John Griffin and another student, Jim Hentz. They were there a couple days when they decided to hitchhike to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The three reached the main road, stuck out a thumb and … nothing. “Nobody’s going to pick us up,” Hentz said.
Hilferty was undaunted: “I think the next car’s going to pick us up.”
That didn’t happen, but the three young men somehow made it to Lauderdale anyhow. “Dan has an incredible can-do spirit,” says Griffin.
Hilferty smiles when the trip is mentioned. “That’s the story of the optimist, the pessimist and the realist,” he says.
It’s no secret where Hilferty falls. His optimism is contagious—and it’s authentic. “He’s a culture carrier,” Griffin says. “He’s never lost that Jesuit ideal of being a man for others. He has a great sense of humility. He has found a way to be loved and respected and occasionally even feared. That’s hard to do.”
Hilferty’s Jesuit background informs his strong relationship with Saint Joseph’s, for which he served as an assistant vice president of community and media relations from 1987–90. “He’s a passionate and loyal alumnus of the university,” says Cheryl McConnell, Saint Joseph’s president.
Hilferty served seven years on the school’s board from 2008 to 2015 and was the recipient of the Shield of Loyola, SJU’s highest award. He and Joan have been supportive of the Kinney Center for Autism Support and Education, and Hilferty is an executive-in-residence at the Haub School of Business. “I love Saint Joseph’s,” he says. “I’m excited about [McConnell] and what they’re doing about expanding in the healthcare space, with an eye on the future. And Saint Joseph’s has the most beautiful campus in the region, bar none.”
Other universities may dispute Hilferty’s claim, but he wouldn’t mind sparring with them—just as he doesn’t consider himself too important for his friends to take shots at him. “They kill me,” he says.
When Hilferty does relax, it’s with Joan, their five kids and four grandchildren. (Another is due in May.) He’s a strong golfer. “He hits the ball harder than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Deavens says.
A recent episode on the course, however, led to a core muscle tear that required repair over the summer by renowned Philadelphia surgeon Bill Meyers. While tending to that, Meyers noticed Hilferty’s hip was a mess, and that required a summer replacement.
Coates describes Hilferty as the kind of guy you want to keep around at any gathering. “That’s why I pull my Irish goodbye,” Hilferty says, laughing.
“He checks every box,” Coates says. “He can be effective with his family, in business and in life. He’s basically the same guy everywhere. There’s an aura about him.”
And he wants to share that with those around him.
Flyers by the Numbers
- Years since the Flyers won their last Stanley Cup: 49.
- Years since the Flyers’ last appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals: 14.
- Number of playoff appearances since the Flyers last made the finals: 6.
- Number of coaches since the Flyers last made the finals: 5 (Peter Laviolette, Craig Berube, Dave Hakstol, Alain Vigneault, John Tortorella).
- Number of GMs since the Flyers last made the finals: 4 (Paul Holmgren, Ron Hextall, Chuck Fletcher, Danny Brière).
- Number of goalies since the Flyers last made the finals: 21 (too many to mention here; Carter Hart is the current goaltender).