LONDON (AP)The former CEO of the parent company that owns the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils has agreed to take the same position for London-based Merlin Entertainments.

Scott O’Neil will be responsible for overseeing the business operations and global growth for Merlin Entertainments across its 147 attractions in 24 countries. O’Neil’s appointment, effective Wednesday, comes following outgoing CEO Nick Varney’s decision to retire after 23 years.

Merlin’s attractions include 10 Legoland Resort Theme Parks and hotels, six Resort Theme Parks including Alton Towers, Heide Park and Gardaland, as well as Sea Life aquariums, Madame Tussauds, Peppa Pig World of Play, the Lastminute.com London Eye and Sydney Tower Eye. Merlin is continuing to expand, with three Legoland Resorts in China under development and further openings planned across the US and Asia.

The 52-year-old O’Neil resigned in June 2021 from Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment after he helped lead scores of projects under the HBSE banner such as the Grammy Museum at the Prudential Center and the creation of a state-of-the-art Sixers complex, both in New Jersey.

O’Neil, a Villanova graduate, also previously led Madison Square Garden Sports. He oversaw the business operations of the Knicks, New York Rangers, and New York Liberty.

”My experience in the NBA, NFL and NHL in building teams, my passion for guest experience, cultivating, reviving and building brands, and driving growth in a business that is similar and consumer focused seemed like a natural next step,” O’Neil said.

Though it’s far from a household name, Merlin has become the undisputed, second-largest visitor attractions operator on the planet based on attendance. Disney has a comfortable lead in the No. 1 spot.

”Scott has significant experience in the entertainment industry, a proven track-record of delivering business transformation, and the vision and ambition to lead Merlin through the next exciting stages of its global development,” said Roland Hernandez, chair of Merlin Entertainments. ”The board has every confidence in him, and we look forward to working closely together over the coming years.”