But what isn’t at all clear is whether allowing one man to establish what would be a near-monopoly over the city’s entertainment industry is necessarily a good idea.
You won’t find a lot of doubts expressed in the local media coverage. The supposedly independent press has responded less like a watchdog and more the way you would expect from a team of public relations employees working for Ilitch Holdings.
One sports columnist gushed that normally you might worry a little bit over a deal like this. After all, it would give Mike Ilitch something no one else in the nation has: Ownership of the three major league sports teams -- the baseball Tigers, hockey‘s Red Wings, and the Pistons, not to mention Motor City Casino, Olympia Entertainment, the palatial Fox Theatre and other properties.
Normally you might worry about someone having that much clout, the columnist wrote, but not in this case, because Mr. Ilitch has done so much for Detroit that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Now nobody doubts that the pizza magnate has been a major force in the revitalization of Detroit’s downtown. However, biological evidence indicates he is unlikely to live forever. Mike Ilitch is now eighty-one years old, and there already has been rivalry among his children. What happens after he leaves the scene?
And, as Ilitch candidly told a friend of mine who interviewed him some years ago when he was renovating the Fox Theater, he does deals like this not out of altruism, but to make money. Fifteen years ago he decided he had to have a new stadium for his Detroit Tigers.
He then hinted that he might move the team elsewhere unless the taxpayers voted to tax themselves to contribute to its costs.
The voters obediently did so. Today, there is talk that the purchase of the Pistons will lead to discussion of a vast new sports complex near downtown Detroit, something that would cost at least half a billion dollars. Presumably, the impoverished local taxpayers would be asked to contribute to that facility too.
If the Pistons do move back to Detroit, it wouldn’t be good news for the suburban community of Auburn Hills, thirty miles north of the city. That’s where the basketball team now plays.
And there’s is also the possibility that if Detroit proves insufficiently cooperative, instead of moving the Pistons back to Detroit, Mr. Ilitch could choose to move the Detroit Red Wings out to join them, something that would be an economic blow to the city, as well as damaging to Detroit’s already sagging morale.
Nobody knows exactly what will happen if the sale goes through. But for years, our government both sponsored and supported anti-trust legislation for a reason:
Monopolies, generally speaking, aren’t good. They stifle creativity and aren’t good for the consumer.
Competition, whether for cars or entertainment dollars, tends to increase quality and decrease cost. There may be compelling reasons to make an exception in the case of Mike Ilitch and the Pistons. But at the very least, we should take a hard look at the implications of this deal, and think it through.