Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment CEO and longtime Detroit Pistons exec, retires

Detroit Free Press

Kirkland Crawford
| Detroit Free Press

Tom Wilson, a fixture in sports and entertainment in southeast Michigan for four decades, announced he will retire from Ilitch Companies at the end of the year.

The Detroit native’s legacy includes having a huge hand building two sports arenas in metro Detroit, the Palace of Auburn Hills and Little Caesars Arena.

For most of the last 10 years, Wilson was the president of Olympia Entertainment, which runs the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, 313 Presents. Last December, he shifted to a president emeritus role

“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,” said Chris Ilitch, President and CEO, Ilitch Holdings, Inc. “I am thankful for his invaluable contributions and partnership over the years.”

Wilson spent 32 years working for former Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, first with the Pistons and most notably as president and CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment from 1987-2010. He was one of the leading voices for the development of the Palace of Auburn Hills, which opened in 1988.

Davidson died in 2009 and less than a year later, Wilson resigned. In February 2010, Wilson was hired by longtime PS&E rival Olympia Entertainment to help secure a new home for the Red Wings.

And Wilson did just that, helping spearhead the effort to build Little Caesars Arena, which opened in 2017.

“Time has flown by and I have certainly been blessed,” Wilson said in a released statement. “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 10 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,” Wilson continued in his statement. 

Wilson grew up in Detroit and is a graduate of Cass Tech and Wayne State. At 6-foot-4, he went to Hollywood after college to pursue an acting career, according to a Free Press profile of him in 1989. After a few bit parts on television, Wilson shifted to a marketing job with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and The Forum. 

That led him to take a similar position with the Pistons as a 27-year-old in 1978. He was named Pistons CEO one year later. 

During the 1980s, he also served as the team’s television color commentator on PASS. He also had a stint as Pistons team president during the 90s, from the beginning of the dismantling of the championship team to Joe Dumars’ ascension to team president.

Contact Kirkland Crawford: Follow him on Twitter @HiKirkHere.

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