Tigers dispute team is for sale, amid report Dan Gilbert is interested

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Dan Gilbert, left, and Christopher Ilitch share a laugh at a Detroit forum in May.

The Tigers are disputing that the team is for sale, refuting a report from an obscure website that Detroit booster and billionaire Dan Gilbert is in discussions to purchase the baseball franchise.

“We are on the record and have consistently stated that Christopher Ilitch is 100-percent committed to long-term Ilitch ownership of the Detroit Tigers,” Ron Colangelo, a Tigers spokesman, said in a statement.

The sports website, The Spun, reported Tuesday that Gilbert, the Quicken Loans co-founder and owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, was in "serious discussions" about purchasing the Tigers.

That story, citing anonymous sources, seemed to lend some credibility to the speculation that Gilbert was indeed interested in adding Major League Baseball to his vast portfolio amid a report by Bloomberg earlier this month that said Gilbert was looking to cash out of the casino business. Gilbert is part of an ownership group of Greektown Casino, as well as multiple casinos in Ohio.

MLB prohibits owners from holding stakes in casinos. The Ilitches got around it in a controversial sweetheart deal with MLB that allowed Marian Ilitch to put up a stake in MotorCity Casino Hotel in her name, while relinquishing ownership in the Tigers. Husband Mike Ilitch was sole owner of the Tigers.

Mike Ilitch died in February 2017 at the age of 87. Christopher Ilitch runs the Tigers, officially as chairman and CEO. For all intents and purposes, he carries on ownership duties of the Tigers and Red Wings. Where Mike Ilitch spent lavishly on big-name stars in a bid for a World Series ring — the Tigers made the playoffs five times from 2006-13, including two World Series, but never won it all — Christopher Ilitch is overseeing a massive rebuild. Several of the team's biggest stars have been traded over the past two years, and payroll was down to $111 million on Opening Day 2018, from $216 million just one year earlier. Much more cash comes off the books this offseason.

Still, Ilitch, 53, has repeatedly said the family is committed to owning the Tigers long-term, including in spring training as well as during a meeting with reporters at Comerica Park earlier this month.

“I am committed, and we are committed,” Ilitch said during that press briefing.

The Tigers are believed to be worth more than $1 billion, which would be a more-than-tenfold return on Ilitch's $82 million purchase price when he bought the team from fellow pizza magnate Tom Monaghan in 1992. And the ballclub's worth is projected to rise in the coming years, with a new television contract looming.

Gilbert, 56, a Southfield native and Michigan State and Wayne State alumnus, nearly purchased MLB's Milwaukee Brewers in 2004, before he became majority owner of the Cavaliers in 2005. He's won one championship with the Cavaliers, in 2016, snapping the city of Cleveland's 50-year title drought.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984