Detroit Tigers: Mike Ilitch – The #1 Owner in All of Sports
There are only a few elite jobs in the United States. One is the President of the United States – only 43 men have held the position. Another is owning a professional sports franchise. There are only 30 MLB teams, 32 NFL teams, 30 NBA teams, and 30 NHL teams. When it comes to sports ownership, no one does it better than Mr. Mike Ilitch who owns the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings.
Mr. Ilitch, affectionately known as “Mr. I”, is the epitome of a sports team owner. He is dedicated to seeing his teams succeed, he is not afraid to invest in his players, and he is dedicated to the City of Detroit. He has proved this repeatedly with the moves he makes to keep his teams relevant contenders on an annual basis. He has done this with both the Tigers and the Red Wings.
Detroit sports fans understand the respect that Mr. I has for his city and his teams. All they have to do is look to the Tigers’ neighbors on Brush Street. The Detroit Lions are also owned by a long-time Detroit family, the Fords – as in the Ford-Motor-Company Fords. It is true that Lions fans are the most dedicated fans in all sports because they have continued to follow a losing team year in and year out. The problems with that team come directly from the owners who do not take as much care of their one team as Mr. I takes care of his two.
The Ilitch family, headed by Mike and Marian, not only own the Tigers and Red Wings, they also are proud owners of Little Caesars Pizza and the Motor City Casino. They are also heavily invested in an under-construction hockey arena in an area that will be called District Detroit. The family also owns Olympia Entertainment which manages Comerica Park, Cobo Hall, and Joe Louis Arena. The 86-year-old Mr. I is currently worth $5.4 billion.
One of the reasons that Mr. I is so dedicated to baseball and the Tigers is that he actually played in their farm system. After a knee injury, he was no longer able to play at the level needed for professional baseball. Fulfilling a life-long dream, he bought the team in 1992 and spearheaded the building of Comerica Park.
He purchased the Red Wings in 1982. At this point in history, the Red Wings were at the bottom of the league. In just a few short years, he brought the team back to championship status. In fact, the team has been to the post-season in all but two of the season that Mr. I has owned it. The team is on a 24-year streak of post-season appearances with the last Stanley Cup coming to Detroit in 2008. He continues to keep the team loaded with talent.
On the baseball side of things, Mr. Ilitch cannot be topped. Only two teams spend more on their players and management: the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Appropriately, these teams are in the two largest markets, so they have the fan support and media support to justify the spending. Detroit is a midsize market and Mr. Ilitch usually just “breaks even” if he makes money at all. This is dedication and proof that this man loves his team. Players want to come to Detroit to play, because of Mr. I.
The offseason signings for the 2016 season are proof that he is the best owner in sports. Without hesitation, he broke through the luxury tax barrier because he wants his team to win. Other baseball owners are not so generous. For example, Mr. Ilitch signed Justin Upton for $22 million annually. Alex Gordon with the Kansas City Royals is receiving a fraction of the salary at $12 million. Ilitch gave Miguel Cabrera $11 million in 2008, during his 6th year in the majors. Paul Goldschmidt, one of the top hitters and first basemen in the league, will earn $8.8 million in his 6th year with the Arizona D-Backs. In 2013, Justin Verlander was the highest paid pitcher until Clayton Kershaw topped him in 2014. Fans of teams like the Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins, and the New York Mets dream of Mr. Ilitch buying their teams.
Ilitch could be like other owners and simply reap the benefits of owning not one, but two professional sports franchises. Instead of paying large salaries, he could keep the profits for himself. He could let his ballpark and stadium fall apart. He could ignore the fans. Instead, he chooses to do exactly the opposite. Mr. Ilitch makes it easy to be a fan of the Detriot Tigers.
Next: Celebrating Diversity in the Detroit Tigers
Detroit is one lucky city. Long live Mike Ilitch.