The Ilitch family, which owns the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings issued a statement on Thursday saying that it was exploring the possibility of launching its own regional sports network to provide television coverage of the two teams. Ilitch Holdings Inc. vice president of sports and entertainment, Chris Holding, said in a press release that “we have two perennially highly-rated and historic franchises, which provide compelling year-round content and programming. As such, we feel our organization is uniquely positioned to explore the launch of what we believe could be a highly successful regional sports network.”
It should be noted that both the Red Wings’ and Tigers’ broadcast rights are still under contract with Fox Sports Detroit. It doesn’t sound as if the Ilitches or Fox are giving up on getting a deal done. In that same release Holding said “FOX Sports Detroit is a great partner and we look forward to discussing renewal and extension possibilities.” When reached via email by The Athletic‘s Katie Strang, Fox Sports senior vice president of communication Andrew Fegyveresi said “We value our long-standing relationship with the Ilitch family, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings. We look forward to continuing our relationship and providing comprehensive team coverage for years to come.”
A regional network owned directly by the teams could be a safeguard for the Tigers and Red Wings. The Fox regional sports networks were sold to the Walt Disney Company as part of that $71.3 billion deal from earlier this year. The US Justice Department has ordered Disney to spin those properties off to avoid any kind of monopoly in the sports media realm. It is likely that the Ilitch family would rather go into the sports media business for itself rather than be at the mercy of whomever the highest bidder might be.
An industry insider told Strang that this is a move that makes sense for the Ilitch family. “Detroit is a strong sports town. The Tigers and Red Wings are part of that and their state will always support them. They’re so embedded in the culture of Michigan that people will always follow them, even through ups and downs. They will always have a strong following, and that’s what you need when creating RSN.”