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Volume 26 No. 178
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Pure Michigan: Granger Goes Inside The Culture Of Tigers, Red Wings

Granger said that Tigers and Red Wings sales staff have begun to work together to sell across Ilitch properties
Photo: TONY FLOREZ
Granger said that Tigers and Red Wings sales staff have begun to work together to sell across Ilitch properties
Photo: TONY FLOREZ
Granger said that Tigers and Red Wings sales staff have begun to work together to sell across Ilitch properties
Photo: TONY FLOREZ

Ilitch Holdings Sports & Entertainment President Chris Granger highlighted a number of industry issues and touch points during a 45-minute Q&A at the '19 AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises conference. Granger said his job now has immeasurably more scope than when he was president of NBA Kings. "It's the business of the Detroit Red Wings, the business of the Detroit Tigers. We have a joint venture partnership with the Pistons that centers around music. ... We program and book and sell across eight different venues throughout southeastern Michigan. And we have about 50 blocks of real estate that we're developing in and around Little Caesars Arena and the area between downtown and Midtown Detroit," he said.

SHAPING CULTURE: In creating a new corporate culture, Granger acknowledged that there were divisions between the Tigers and Red Wings when he arrived. However, more recently, the sales staffs are selling across Ilitch properties. Granger: "No doubt, there's some people who have sold the Tigers for 20 years, who have sold the Red Wings for 10 years, who it's a bit different for them. That said, as soon as you start to have those conversations with a premium client who's interested in corporate hospitality, or someone who's interested in partnership and the marketing assets, that mentality changes pretty quickly." In hiring, Granger used the word integrity, again and again. The Tigers and Red Wings employ around 500 people full-time, he said. "It's easy to get an A (exec) -- you have to choose to get an A+, and I want those people who have that extra gear," he said. "We always talk in our organization about grit, and grit being sort of the combination of passion, and perseverance, and resolve."

8 MILE MENTALITY: Granger said of bringing in civic-minded execs, "The people who we're recruiting to Detroit understand that it's not just about selling tickets, and it's not just about marketing or sponsorship. These are people who want to do big things in the world and want to do big things for Detroit. And it's that civic theme that I think is a thread among all the people who are coming in right now. Many of you know Dave Baldwin who we have from the Miami Dolphins -- coming in with Detroit ties. We have Peter Kent, who runs our sponsorship business from the PGA Tour. Emily Neenan, who's our new CMO, is coming from MasterCard -- also a University of Michigan grad. Our CFO, Russ Borrows, is from Live Nation -- also a native Detroiter."

PEOPLE GAME: In the end, Granger said, he accomplishes the most by prioritizing people over that day's to-do list. He said, "We all have a tendency to focus on the fire drill. Because I can fix it, and I know what the solution is. ... You've got to get the people growing. And you've got to get the talent flourishing. And the way you do that is you have to remind yourself constantly to focus on the people before the task."