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Marian Ilitch; Female NHL and MLB Team Owner

Businesswoman and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, Marian Ilitch has become a face of success in male dominated industries. 

Courtesy of Detroit Red

Marian Bayoff Ilitch was a first generation American, born in 1933, to Macedonian parents. She grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and fell in love with hockey around age 15. Ilitch has said “(she) was a Red Wings fan, before (she) even met Mike.” Mike Ilitch being her future husband and lifelong business partner. The two met in 1954 on a blind date arranged by his father. Both the children of immigrants, they knew the importance of hard work to achieve their goals. 

Mike and Marian Ilitch on their wedding day, courtesy of

While Mike played as a professional baseball player, Ilitch worked for Delta Airlines. They both were living and working in Detroit, where she fell in love with the action of downtown. In 1959, the couple took their savings and opened the first Little Caesars in Garden City, Michigan. The name came from Ilitch’s nickname for Mike, her “little Caesar.” This family owned pizza store went on to become the third largest pizza chain in the world, and is currently signed to be the official pizza sponsor of the NFL. This proves the company’s success has only grown over the years. 

Courtesy of Detroit Free

Before their involvement in professional sports leagues, Marian and Mike established the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, which now includes Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club, Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League, Junior Red Wings and Little Caesars Farmington Hills Hockey Association. As hockey parents and fans, their goal was to provide access to youth hockey and feature both boys and girls teams. 

In 1982, the Detroit Red Wings went up for sale and was bought by Marian and Mike Ilitch for $8 million. "I watched the Stanley Cups, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Marty Pavelich. When we heard it was available, we had a hard time believing it was true," Ilitch said. The team had been going through tough times and were commonly referred to as the “Dead Wings” before 1983, when Steve Yzerman was brought on as the first pick under Ilitch ownership. Overtime, with the support of the city and with Yzerman becoming captain, the Red Wings made their comeback, winning 4 Stanley Cups. Ilitch and her daughters are among the few women who have had their names engraved on the Cup. 

Mike wanted a chance at the baseball scene and the couple eventually came to own the Detroit Tigers MLB team as well. They guided both teams through major changes, most notably the ballpark change to Comerica Park for the Tigers and the arena change to Little Caesars Arena for the Red Wings. Both have become staple venues in downtown Detroit. Little Caesars Arena is now also home to the Detroit Pistons NBA team and received the Sports Business Journal Award for the 2018 Sports Facility of the Year. 

Courtesy of The Oakland

In 1999, Marian Ilitch founded Ilitch Holdings Inc. to manage the family’s holdings. Their current portfolio still includes the Detroit Red Wings, Little Caesars Arena, the Detroit Tigers, and control over Comerica Park, as well as new entertainment venues through 313 Presents, District Detroit, MotorCity Casino Hotel, and many other involvements in Detroit. Mike and Marian Ilitch were determined to give back to the city and community they grew up in, so they started programs such as the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, Little Caesars Veterans Program, Ilitch Charities, and foundations for both their sports teams. 

Marian Ilitch remains one of the most successful businesswomen in the country. She has been proclaimed the “Most Impactful Woman Owner in the League” by the NHL and inducted into both the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She is recognized by Forbes for her self-made billionaire status and continues to prove women can succeed in male dominated industries. 

Edited by Raegan Verhoff

Written by Bella-Rosa Fetelea

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