Wingin' It: Mike Ilitch

By Daniel Gustkey

If you are going to truly get to know the people involved in a sports franchise (at least as much as this blogger can), you might as well start from the top.  For the Detroit Red Wings, the top is non other than the distinguished Mike Ilitch.

Ilitch has been involved in athletics for most of his life, including spending some time in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system.  When his dreams of playing big league baseball fell short, he turned his life to pizza, and hasn’t looked back.

Ilitch convinced a local nightclub to let him make pizzas in the back, and a business was born.  It wasn’t quite that easy, but Ilitch was eventually able to purchase an area in a strip mall, where he created the “Little Caesar’s” pizza franchise that has blossomed into big business.  Forbes has Ilitch listed as the 180th richest American, with a net worth of just over 2.4 billion dollars.

Ilitch was looking for a path back into the athletic arena, when he came across a deal for the struggling Detroit Red Wings.  They were available for sale for eight million dollars, and Ilitch simply couldn’t say no.  He made that eight million dollar purchase, and the rest is history.  Ilitch took that eight million dollar investment in 1982, and has turned it into what Forbes estimates as a franchise worth 315 million dollars today, the 4th highest net-worth of any franchise in the NHL.  Ilitch wasn’t done however, as a decade after purchasing the Red Wings, he bought MLB’s Detroit Tigers for a slightly larger sum of 82 million dollars.

Under Ilitch’s ownership, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups, and produced some of the best players to ever play in the NHL.  Guys like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Pavel Datsyuk have been staples of the Ilitch ownership, and I’d say that’s worked out just fine for him.

Ilitch has never been one to micromanage, and I believe that is the main reason for his success.  Instead of a Jerry Jones-like approach, he hires the right people, puts them in the right positions, and lets them do their jobs.

Above all else, Ilitch has been a winner.  Red Wings fans have never been able to criticize their ownership for penny-pinching, or making decisions that were about anything other than winning.

You simply cannot ask for anything more.

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