This is not at all surprising, but as this story in the Detroit News makes clear, Chris Ilitch, son of Mike, will now ascend to the Tigers’ ownership chair by virtue of his father’s passing. Major League Baseball will, eventually, designate him the control person of the franchise.
As the story notes, Chris Ilitch has been running the day-to-day operations of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. for years. That’s the company which manages all of his parents’ business interests, including the Tigers, the Red Wings, Little Caesars Pizza, the new Little Caesar’s Arena and the Motor City Casino, which is operated by his mother. As such, there will be little if any change in continuity with respect to the company.
The article is nonetheless enlightening as a piece of perspective. The family business he now helms has revenue of around $3.4 billion. All of major league baseball takes in around $10 billion. As such, the Tigers’ portion of Ilitch Holdings is relatively small, all things considered, especially compared to the amount of attention they receive by virtue of being a professional sports team.
Mike Ilitch was lauded as a generous owner due to his willingness to put money into his team and to sign and retain players who excited the fan base. And he certainly was. The reality of the situation, however, is that what constituted big splashes for the baseball team were relatively small potatoes in the context of the larger business empire, so Ilitch could certainly afford to do it. Ilitch was generous, yes, but he was no fool and did not take silly risks.
There are many baseball owners, however, who are wealthier or who operate larger businesses with greater revenue than Ilitch had and nonetheless place tight budgets on their ballclubs and take every opportunity to explain how they’re just getting by or, in some cases, losing money.
When Ilitch passed over the weekend, he was widely praised. Not all baseball owners are when they shuffle off. There’s likely a lesson to be learned in all of that.