Michael "Mike" Ilitch Sr. (July 20, 1929 – February 20, 2017) was an American entrepreneur and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. In addition to his sports ownerships, he was the founder and owner of Little Caesars Pizza since 1959, which has become an international fast food franchise. He had been at the center of Detroit's downtown redevelopment efforts when he purchased and renovated the Fox Theatre, and relocated his headquarters into its offices. He was a first generation American of Macedonian descent. He was married to Marian Ilitch.
Ilitch is an avid sports fan, and in 1982, he and Marian purchased the struggling Detroit Red Wings professional hockey franchise and turned that team into a Stanley Cup champion. At the time of the purchase, the team was known as the “Dead Wings” and interest in hockey in Detroit was at an all-time low. After winning eight divisional championships, four President’s Trophies (for the season best record among all NHL teams), four Campbell Bowls and three Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, and 2002, Detroit is now passionately known as “Hockeytown” and is the envy of all cities where hockey is played. The Red Wings are consistently ranked among the most valuable franchises in the NHL and the percent of capacity at its Joe Louis Arena is the highest among all hockey teams.
Detroit Red Wings
In 1982, Mike Ilitch bought the Red Wings from Bruce Norris for $8 million, and eventually turned the team into a contender for the Stanley Cup. After building the team with the help of Jim Devellano, the Red Wings won back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998, fifteen years since his purchase. The Detroit Red Wings' success would include two other championships in 2002 & 2008. Prior to the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Forbes Magazine ranked the Red Wings as the fifth most valuable franchise in the NHL despite a $16 million operating loss. For the 2007/08 hockey season, the team won the President's Trophy for the best record in the NHL for the sixth time - the most of any NHL team. They also made the playoffs for 17 consecutive seasons and won the Stanley Cup. So far, Detroit's 17 consecutive playoff appearances ranks third in league history after 25 consecutive trips by the St. Louis Blues (1980-2004) and the Boston Bruins' streak of 29 consecutive appearances (1968-1996). On May 8, 2009, Ilitch was named by Sports Illustrated (www.si.com) as the best owner in the NHL.
Hockey Hall of Fame
In Stanley Cup history, only 12 women have had their names engraved on the trophy including Ilitch's wife, Marian and their three daughters.
Ilitch died on February 10, 2017, at the age of 87 in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings wore a patch on their right shoulders in his memory, which featured his nickname "Mr. I" in a rectangle, for the remainder of the season.