So Tom Wilson, the long-time CEO and president of Palace Sports & Entertainment, resigned last week in a move that sent shock waves through the industry, both locally and nationally. Within minutes of his announcement, speculation began about what was next for the 33-year veteran who was known for building the Palace and setting the standard in the industry.
Here’s my take – and remember this is my own WILD speculation and based upon just my own perspective. I have NO inside information and haven’t spoken directly with Tom since leaving the Palace on February 1st. I’ve been asked by many to weigh in on the situation, so I’m putting it on the scale.
I think Tom’s going to work for the Ilitches — plain and simple. I believe he is going to Olympia Entertainment and is going to do for them what he did for Mr. Davidson and PS&E in designing, building and managing a new arena.
Since this is my own wild speculation, I will back up where this comes from. First though, let’s look at some of the other ideas that were thrown out in speculation.
I heard Tom was going to put together a group that would purchase PS&E, including the Pistons, the Palace and the DTE Energy Music Theatre. It would take a group comprised of some pretty big players, and although I think Tom has those connections, I would argue that the move wouldn’t give him enough power (assuming he would only be a minority owner) and wouldn’t provide an attractive enough challenge.
Heard he was going to the Lions, but I don’t see a fit there based upon the executives that are currently in place for the Fords. Also, they already have a relatively new stadium that has a very limited use potential (football, large concerts, large events). Heard Tom was going to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but in reviewing the Cavs situation, someone would have to be moved to make him a fit. Even heard he was going to the Miami Dolphins, but didn’t hear that one for long.
The Ilitch gig works for several reasons:
First, Tom has the experience to take on a project like building a new arena for the Red Wings. He’s been through it. He knows how to get it done. He knows what makes for a fan-friendly stadium and can suggest ideas that will generate revenue in non-traditional areas (think clubs, suites, etc.). He has navigated the waters of city ordinances, construction costs and hitting deadlines. It’s also a fresh challenge for him – something new, with a new organization and a different, yet similar, set of challenges.
Second, he’s great at the PR game and would be an excellent spokesman for the Ilitches as they build the arena. Tom has a good relationship with Chris Ilitch, an important factor when working with a family-owned operation, and brings credibility, experience and a presence in front of many types of stakeholders – media, city officials, fans — to handle the job of promoting the new building (along with the Ilitches). Support will be crucial if Mr. Ilitch has to ask for any funding from the city.
Third, if the Wings have to move while they are building the new arena, Tom may be a perfect conduit to negotiate a deal for the Wings to play at the Palace. He has an insider’s perspective on what it would take and would be a great ally to the Ilitches in negotiating a short-term lease agreement.
Finally, Tom knows hockey having managed the Tampa Bay Lightning and their building, the St. Pete Times Forum. He knows what it takes in the NHL, having made the Lightning a success both on and off the ice. Further, he understands the place the Red Wings hold in the NHL and the city of Detroit.
Working for Olympia Entertainment would be a fresh challenge for Tom and an exciting opportunity to further his legacy by doing what he has done in the past –setting the standard for innovation in sports arenas.
Thoughts, questions, comments, concerns?