Person involved in deal tells AP: Pistons to sell the team to Tigers, Wings owner Mike Ilitch

By Larry Lage, AP
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

AP source: Pistons to sell team to Mike Ilitch

DETROIT — The Detroit Pistons have found a new owner and he knows Motor City sports.

The Pistons have decided to sell the team to Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, a person involved with the process said Tuesday. The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement, said both sides were negotiating financial terms.

Forbes last year valued the team at $479 million, but a weak economy, the threat of an NBA lockout next year and a motivated seller — Karen Davidson — likely mean the price is lower.

Ilitch Holdings spokeswoman Jennifer Haselhuhn said the organization signed a nondisclosure agreement earlier this year and cannot comment. Mayor Dave Bing, former Pistons star, said Tuesday “the deal is not done, but we remain optimistic.”

Ilitch, the Little Caesars pizza mogul, has said he was motivated to buy the Pistons in part to make sure another buyer didn’t move the NBA club out of town.

If the sale goes through, the 81-year-old Ilitch would be the only person to own and control teams in three of North America’s four major professional leagues. Ted Turner once owned the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers.

The Pistons sale could have significant ramifications for where the area’s pro teams play — in Detroit or its suburbs.

If Ilitch owns both the Red Wings and Pistons, he could likely leverage a deal with Detroit and Wayne County officials to finance a new arena in the city because they wouldn’t want him move the storied hockey team to The Palace in suburban Auburn Hills, where the Pistons play.

The Red Wings, who play at 31-year-old Joe Louis Arena, have been contemplating whether to build a new arena, renovate their current home or move at least temporarily to The Palace.

The Pistons played at Detroit’s Cobo Arena from 1961-78, then played at the Pontiac Silverdome until 1988, when they moved to Auburn Hills. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, whose county includes the suburb, has said he would encourage Ilitch to keep the team at The Palace.

Ilitch, a Detroit native, has refused to move the Tigers or Red Wings to the suburbs. He spent a lot of money to build Comerica Park across the street from Fox Theatre, which he spent $12 million to refurbish, his sports bar and a slew of parking lots that possibly will be the site of a new arena.

“You’re not going to find a better owner,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last month. “He hires people, lets them do their jobs and he’s not afraid to spend money.”

Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as founder and chairman of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, told The Associated Press that an Ilitch-owned Pistons is good for the team and the city. He also endorsed a single downtown facility serving both the Pistons and Red Wings.

“It would be just another great momentum builder for the urban core here downtown,” said Gilbert, who just orchestrated the move of 1,700 employees to downtown Detroit.

Ilitch bought the Red Wings in 1982 for a reported $8 million. He turned a franchise that sunk so low it was called the “Dead Wings,” into one of the best of the past two decades, with four Stanley Cups and 19 straight postseason appearances — the longest active streak in sports.

Ilitch added the Tigers in 1992 for about $85 million. They struggled for years — hitting rock bottom in 2003 with an AL-record 119 losses and an apathetic fan base — before making a surprising run to the 2006 World Series and having only one losing mark the past five years.

Owner Karen Davidson has said she was considering a sale of the Pistons by itself or as part of a package with Palace Sports and Entertainment, which includes The Palace of Auburn Hills, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival. She had expected the deal to be done by this month’s season-opening game.

The Pistons, who wouldn’t comment on The AP report Tuesday, accepted bids from at least three suitors in June and again earlier this month. Platinum Equity chairman Tom Gores did not return a call, while The Postolos Group president George Postolos said he thought interest in the Pistons was a good thing.

“I remain committed to becoming an NBA owner, and see the strength and depth of interest in the Pistons as a positive for the league and for Detroit,” he said.

AP Business Writer Jeff Karoub in Detroit contributed to this story.

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