Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has always been a savvy businessman, building his Little Cesars Pizza business from the ground up and transforming it into a national mainstay.
He rebuilt the Red Wings from the ashes of the Dead Wings era, winning four Stanley Cups. And slowly, but surely, he's brought the Tigers back from the awfulness that was the 1990s and turned them into winners (well, at least for half a season).
But first and foremost he's always been a "Detroit guy." And his latest business venture will do nothing to change that image, as Ilitch has expressed interest in buying the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons went on sale this off-season after the death of former owner William Davidson, whose wife Karen now runs the franchise. Karen Davidson wanted nothing to do with running the team from the very start and put the team on the market faster than you can say "Las Vegas."
It was the rumor of the Pistons moving to Vegas that perhaps motivated Ilitch to put his name in the pool. The economy has hurt the sale of the team, as the only other mentioned possibility has been Atlas Oil chairman Sam Simon, who runs the Taylor-based company. But Simon hasn't said a peep about owning the team, making Mr. I the first, and only, frontrunner. Here's an excerpt from the Detroit Free Press article that sheds some light on Ilitch's concern about the future of the team:
"Marian and I grew up here, we raised our family here and we built our businesses here. Detroit is our home,"a statement from Mike Ilitch said. "When I read in the paper there was the chance that this great sports town could lose one of its professional sports franchises, I just didn’t see how we could let that happen.
You all know I love sports - all sports, from amateur sports to the various pro sports we’ve had the privilege to be involved with, and like a lot of others I’m sure, I really want to see the Pistons remain the Detroit Pistons."
How does this concern the Red Wings you ask? Well, other than one guy basically controlling the city of Detroit, an Ilitch purchase of the Pistons would certainly lead to a new downtown arena for both teams. Ilitch is said to want the entire Palace and Sports Entertainment empire, which includes the Pistons, the DTE Music and Energy Center and The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Palace is the key figure in this entire ordeal. According to George Malik of MLive, Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson would try to convince Ilitch to keep the Pistons at the Palace should he succeed in buying the team:
I'm delighted that a respected local businessman, Mike Ilitch, has expressed interest in the Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment. I will do my best to encourage Mr. Ilitch to keep the Pistons in the Palace of Auburn Hills, ranked the number one arena in the nation," Patterson said in a statement
Notice that "ranked number one in the nation" jab he threw in there? It's possible, though highly unlikely, that the sale could hinge on whether or not the Ilitches intend to move the team out of the Palace, which was built in 1988 and is considered one of the top arenas in the NBA.
The Red Wings recently said they'd play at aging Joe Louis Arena for 2010-11, but it's clear that Ilitch wants some new digs for his favorite franchise. Ironically, the Palace has been mentioned as a possible replacement for the Joe should the Red Wings move out, but if Ilitch buys PSE, it looks like the Palace is going to be the odd-arena out. According to Malik, the Red Wings want a new arena whether they get the Pistons or not. Basically, having the Pistons would give Mr. I a good excuse to build a new downtown arena.
Speaking of favorite franchises, that's another aspect in all of this that easily can get looked over. Would it be good for the city to have one guy owning three of the four professional teams? Perhaps more importantly, would the Pistons suffer at the expense of the Red Wings and Tigers, which Ilitch has owned for a much longer period?
My gut tells me that it wouldn't immediately have an impact, as long as Joe Dumars has control to do what he wants with the team personnel-wise. But say times get a little tight(er) and there's not a whole lot of cash to throw around the Ilitch household. Which team gets priority? History says the Red Wings are the favorite son in that department, which is good for Red Wings fans, and bad for everyone else.
Ultimately, Ilitch is trying to be the good guy here. The Pistons in reality had very little chance of bolting town, but the mere thought prompted him to swoop in, just to make sure. After an embarrassing season last year, I can't imagine an Ilitch-owned Pistons would be much worse.
That being said, you wouldn't happen to be a football fan, would you Mr. I?