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50 years and still growing

Joe Hand, Joe Hand Jr.
Joe Hand, Joe Hand Jr.
Mike Smith, Joe Hand Jr.
Statues of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

Joe Hand built the world’s No. 1 independent commercial TV distributor of live sports, and it all started 50-plus years ago on Jackson Street in Wissinoming.

Today, Joe Hand Promotions – along with the Joe Hand Boxing Gym – is in a state-of-the-art building in Feasterville.

“To think all this came from the trunk of my car and basement,” Hand said. “I’ve met a lot of nice people along the way.”

A Lawndale native, he is a graduate of St. William and North Catholic, proudly pointing out that he had 12 years of perfect attendance.

Today, at 85, he and his wife live in Holland. He remains the company chairman and goes into the office each weekday.

Joe Hand Promotions is a family affair. His son Joe is president and daughter Margaret is VP. Sister Pat is co-founder/adviser. In all, there are 35 employees.

Hand was a mechanic and later a Philadelphia police officer who was very close to Frank L. Rizzo, the department’s commissioner and then mayor.

While a cop, in the 1960s, he borrowed money from the Police and Fire Federal Credit Union to become a shareholder in Cloverlay, the corporation that backed boxer Joe Frazier.

Frazier would go on to win the heavyweight championship and then defeated Muhammad Ali in the “Fight of the Century” in March 1971. Being part of Frazier’s team led Hand to form his own sports promotions company later that same year.

Joe Hand Promotions soon became a player in the closed-circuit and pay-per-view sports world.

Back in the day, people would go to venues like the Spectrum to watch closed-circuit fights.

Today, while some people watch pay-per-view events at home, Joe Hand Promotions focuses on “out of home” viewers, mostly at sports bars such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Miller’s Ale House, Chickie’s & Pete’s and the FOP.

It can be big money. For the 2017 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, Hand Promotions signed up 6,500 bars at $3,000 apiece.

The Hands were once known only as “the fight guys.”

Now, the company has the contract for ESPN+, and streaming allows for doing business around the world. It also doesn’t do just boxing, but the PGA, pro wrestling and its biggest client, UFC.

“We’ve always evolved,” Hand Jr. said. “Technology is going to drive the future of this company. As a 50-year-old company in this area, we hope to be here another 50 years.”

The younger Hand gives credit for the company’s success to his dad.

“We couldn’t be here without him,” he said.

The elder Hand, a member of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame, praises the work of his son and other valued employees with making sure the company keeps up with the times.

“I could never have done this myself,” he said.

As for the gym, it moved in 2018 from its former location at 3rd and Green streets in Northern Liberties, having been bought by GoPuff.

Somerton resident Mike Smith, “Smitty” to everyone, manages the gym, which features a ring, speed bags, heavy bags, dumbbells, treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals.

Hand Jr. said the gym isn’t focused on producing the next Mike Tyson.

“What really matters is offering good programs to the community,” he said.

One of those programs is physical therapy treatment for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Treatment is available for anyone with Parkinson’s, regardless of their financial status.

Just inside the front door of the gym are life-size bronze sculptures of Frazier and Ali from their 1971 fight, placed there to be inspirations to young fighters who train there.

The Joe Hand Promotions and Boxing Gym campus is at 213 W. Street Road in Feasterville, on the site of a former Beneficial Bank.

The gym – opened March 8, 2021, the 50th anniversary of the first Frazier/Ali fight – is open to the community. Contact Mike Smith at 267-914-8777 or gym.manager@joehandpromotions.com. ••

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