Tom Wilson, who helped build Palace, LCA, to retire from Olympia Entertainment

Detroit News

Tony Paul
| The Detroit News

Tom Wilson, a sports and entertainment executive in Metro Detroit for more than four decades who oversaw the design and construction of The Palace of Auburn Hills and later Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, announced Wednesday he will retire, effective Thursday.

Wilson, most recently, has been president emeritus of Olympia Entertainment, the umbrella company for 313 Presents, the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. He had been CEO of Olympia, after a 32-year run with the Detroit Pistons, 22 of which he was president and CEO of Palace Sports & Entertainment, overseeing the Pistons and the company’s three music venues.

“Time has flown by and I have certainly been blessed,” Wilson said in a statement released by Olympia. “I am so grateful for the wonderful experiences I have been so fortunate to have had in sports, entertainment and media. From the NBA championships with the Pistons, the opening of The Palace, to the incredible opportunity to open the world class Little Caesars Arena in my hometown of Detroit — it has been a dream journey. The most rewarding part has been the relationships and friendships established. I especially want to express my gratitude and thank Mike and Marian Ilitch, and Chris Ilitch, for bringing me downtown ten years ago to transition the iconic Red Wings franchise to Little Caesars Arena, and to Bill Davidson in believing in me early on in my career to run his sports and entertainment properties.

“I feel very fortunate and my journey has been nothing short of amazing. Now, I’m walking into a different time in my life.

“To everyone I say, ‘Thank you.'”

Wilson joined the Pistons in 1978, and was named CEO the following year. The Pistons broke ground on The Palace in 1986, and it opened in 1988 to rave reviews — and in time to host Pistons championships in 1989 and 2000.

In 1993, he was named president and CEO of the Pistons. And in 2004, he oversaw a banner year with Palace Sports & Entertainment, with the Pistons, Detroit Shock of the WNBA and the PSE-owned Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL all winning their respective championships, the first time ever in North American pro sports that one owner held three championships at the same time.

Longtime Pistons owner Bill Davidson died in 2009, and in 2010, Olympia hired Wilson away from Palace Sports & Entertainment. Tom Gores bought the Pistons in 2011. With Olympia, Wilson also oversaw Fox Theatre, City Theatre and operations at Comerica Park and, before LCA, Joe Louis Arena.

Marketing was one of Wilson’s strengths — if he had one blunder, and he has acknowledged it, it was ushering in the teal-jersey era of the Pistons in the 1990s.

“Throughout his tenure, Tom has been an incredible asset to our organization. His inspiring and collaborative leadership style played an integral role in the development and opening of the innovative Little Caesars Arena in The District Detroit,” Chris Ilitch, President and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., said in a statement. “I am thankful for his invaluable contributions and partnership over the years.”

Wilson grew up in Detroit and graduated from Detroit Cass Tech and Wayne State, before working for the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings and The Forum. He also has spearheaded several philanthropic efforts in the area, including on boards for the Salvation Army, Forgotten Harvest and CATCH.

Wilson, who lives in Oakland Township with wife Linda, was a2019 inductee into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, alongside Charles Woodson and former Piston Grant Hill.

2017: The Palace set standard for future arenas

2018: LEGO Little Caesars Arena unveiled at Monday’s game

2019: Wilson inducted into 2019 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame class

Check back to for more on this developing story.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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