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Volume 25 No. 150
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Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert Talks Detroit, Sports Gambling

Gilbert feels that the development of downtown Detroit is finally overcoming decades of bad reputation
Photo: RICK OSENTOSKI

Cavaliers Owner and Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert addressed issues ranging from Detroit’s urban renewal and building a strong corporate culture, to esports and gambling’s impact on the sports industry, during an interview at the ‘18 AXS Ticketing Symposium. Gilbert, a Detroit native, noted the $4-5B of new construction underway or planned for downtown Detroit by the end of '18. “There’s a sense of urgency now,” said Gilbert, whose companies own almost 100 buildings in Detroit. “Our biggest issue was overcoming 60 years of (bad) reputation. It was not undeserved, but we’re getting over that.”

IMPORTANCE OF CULTURE: Gilbert said he did not think at all about building a strong corporate culture when his company was a startup, but “over the years, I noticed when you have more things to do than time to do them, if everyone in the organization doesn’t have the same belief system, then things are going to go wrong very quickly. You need to establish who you are, not just what you do.” Comparing sports to other businesses is impossible, Gilbert said, “Unlike any other business in the world, you can only affect the outcome three ways: the draft, which happens once a year; free agency, which happens for about three weeks; and trading players. The control you have to improve your products versus any other business, where you have 500 different ways, that becomes the frustration for entrepreneurs, who are so used to being able to change things quickly.” Gilbert is bullish on esports, because “it is in millennials’ DNA. It is almost like the beginning of the internet.”

STATUS OF MLS BID: Gilbert said there is a "really good chance” of bringing an MLS team to Detroit for the ‘22 season. However, he continued to push Ford Field as the home for a potential MLS team rather than a new stadium. “Detroit is the biggest city without a (MLS) team yet,” said Gilbert, but he added MLS wants, “at this point, a new stadium.” MLS franchises generally play in soccer-specific stadiums, but there are relatively new football and baseball venues in downtown Detroit, along with Little Caesars Arena, which opened last fall. Gilbert said, “We have three new stadiums within walking distance of each other, so the question we kept asking is whether we need to open a fourth for 18 (MLS) dates a year. It becomes an allocation of capital issue.” Gilbert said he and his execs have been meeting with officials from Ford Field to determine the costs and feasibility of adding a retractable roof there, in order to make it more soccer friendly. “If we get that worked out, I think we have a pretty good chance” of landing an MLS franchise for Detroit, Gilbert said.

THE GAMBLING OUTLOOK: Gilbert said he welcomes the addition of legalized bookmaking into the sports industry. “As long as it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the game,” he said. “That’s the job of the league commissioners. If that gets compromised, the whole thing would fall apart very quickly. If done right, it's going to help sports.” Asked about possible “dark clouds” for the industry, Gilbert cited the shifting media landscape. “National television contracts drive such a big part of our league (revenues), and they do for the NFL, as well,” he said. “So what happens with disruptive technology? How do the leagues and franchises navigate that? If you make one big mistake, it could hurt for a long time.”