Mike Illitch: Sports Caesar?
I tend to be suspicious of billionaire corporate barons, just because mostly...but I have to admit that I have an appreciation for Mike Illitch.
Illitch is the Little Caesars pizza tycoon and Detroit native who has spent a good portion of his fortune turning around downtown Detroit, with specific emphasis on the city's sports teams. He bought the Red Wings in the '80s, back when they were unaffectionately known as the Dead Things, and transformed them into a perennial National Hockey League powerhouse. Along the way, he ushered in the age of "Hockeytown" (as much a marketing ploy as municipal moniker) that has helped lift not only the Wings but the metro area as a whole. He did pretty much the same thing for the Detroit Tigers, turning what was once the worst team in baseball into a regular contender, this year's slide notwithstanding. Along the way, he also built the gorgeous Comerica Park baseball stadium and changed the nearby Fox Theater from the ratty karate-flick emporium of my youth into the neon-draped anchor of a resurgent entertainment district.
Now, Illitch is seeking to hit the sports-owner trifecta by buying the Detroit Pistons from current owner Karen Davidson and bringing the team back to the city proper to play in an as-yet-to-be-built arena that would also house his hockey team.
You know me: Bad Boys for life, so I'm thrilled at the propsect of the Pistons coming back home to play. And there's little question that having all four teams playing downtown would mean a huge financial boost for the city. (And it also does away with what would be nightmare flipside scenario for the city: The Wings bolting Detroit for Oakland County.)
But I'm also curious about what this could mean in other respects. How would a dual-use stadium be financed and how much of that bill would this struggling town have to foot? And how long would it be before one of the teams sharing the arena starts to complain about wanting its own space? More significantly, what are the implications of one man owning three of a city's four major sports teams? There are certainly bigger issues to be hashed out, but as in cities across the country, pro sports in Detroit is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Illitch already holds a massive amount of sway citywide. Is giving someone a virtual monopoly on Detroit pro sports a good thing, even when the monopolist is a homeboy with an undeniable passion for the city and an admirable willingness to put his deep pockets where his heart is?
And if it somehow is, then can he look into buying the Lions next?