House of Rock



(page 1 of 4)

The cabbie knows the heartache all too well. The last time a Cleveland team sat atop the professional sports world was 1964, when the Browns beat the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, for the NFL championship. “This town really needs a champion,” he says. “You tell Mr. Gilbert I said this is his year. The Cavaliers are going all the way.”

If Dan Gilbert feels the considerable weight of a long-suffering sports town on his shoulders, he’s not letting on. As majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who made his fortune selling mortgages over the Internet from the confines of the Motor City, he’s a Detroit booster through and through. Sure, it would be nice to own his hometown Pistons, but with Cleveland banging on the door of an NBA championship, he’s not too conflicted.

He’s also a realist. “Getting an NBA championship is a quest,” Gilbert says. “Last year, we went 8-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and then we played Orlando. There were a few plays here or there that could’ve gone either way, but we lost in six games. Injuries are another factor, and something that’s unpredictable. Luck plays a part, too.”

Not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, Gilbert likes to blend in and observe the world around him. But when the billionaire owner sees opportunity, he grabs hold and doesn’t let go. Case in point: The Cavaliers’ brass reacted quickly to the team’s major deficiency last year — that it was too soft in the middle — and acquired all-star center Shaquille O’Neal during the offseason.

Will it be enough to reach the summit? Time will tell. But don’t look for Gilbert to dwell too long on the outcome. He’s too busy enhancing a professional sports franchise. Since he acquired the team in 2005, he’s invested $35 million in the Cavaliers’ arena, including more comfortable seats, added sound, and new scoreboards. The venue also hosted 220 events last year, up from 160 events five years ago, according to team president Len Komoroski.

So what’s Gilbert’s secret? “One of the things I always look for are synergies among the various businesses we operate,” he says. “I like to call it the threads of connectivity. If we can promote our other companies as part of something we’re doing, it’s a lot easier than creating something from scratch, or having all of these silos that don’t connect to one another.”

Mindful that professional sports teams are competing for entertainment dollars across multiple spectrums, Gilbert launched a unique in-house ticketing service two years ago that allows Cavs fans to buy, sell, and transfer seats online. Goodbye, StubHub. Hello, Flash Seats. The beauty of the system is that there are no tickets to drop off or pick up. All a fan has to do is flash a credit card or driver’s license to enter the game.

“Even if a game is sold out, a typical NBA franchise only knows 40 percent of the people in an arena because there’s so many tickets changing hands,” says Jeff Kline, president of Cleveland-based Veritix, which oversees Flash Seats. “By operating our own ticketing service, we can get to know 50 to 60 percent of the people, plus there’s a better chance we can fill all the seats even if we’re technically sold out.”

Kline says that up to 7 percent more fans will come to a game because of the team’s in-house ticketing service. So that means added revenue from parking, concessions, and souvenirs. And it’s not just Cleveland fans who are benefiting. Veritix also has partnerships with the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, and Colorado Avalanche. “I’d love to get Detroit teams involved,” Kline says.

The Early Years

Born on Detroit’s west side, Gilbert, 48, doesn’t remember a great deal of city life. His family moved to Southfield in the mid-1960s, and he attended Southfield schools. He was active in sports, playing both baseball and pickup basketball. But he often traveled back and forth to Detroit on the weekends — his late father, Sam, was a World Word II Army veteran who bought and operated a handful of bars after leaving the service.

Gilbert recalls playing with the adding machine at a bar and restaurant his father owned near Seven Mile and Woodward. “I’d deliver things from the basement, hang out, have fun,” he recalls. “My grandfather owned a few car washes. I guess you could say we were an entrepreneurial family, but no one used that word back then. Eventually, my dad sold the bars and both he and my mom (Shirley) became Century 21 agents.”

Those early years proved fruitful for Gilbert. He developed a knack for building things and creating value. He would deliver newspapers, sell candy or yo-yos, go door-to-door offering pots and pans — he even got into the pizza business, albeit temporarily.

“We made the pizzas in my mom’s kitchen using Chef Boyardee sauce, and we delivered them on our bicycles,” he says. “But the health department shut us down pretty quickly. We obviously had no business license and really [shouldn’t have been] operating … I think some local pizza outlets complained.

“But I did deliver pizzas for a while, and I believe I hold the world record for the most pizza deliveries in a night — 78 pies on Aug. 12, 1982 (the 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift). It was a perfect night, great weather, and all the orders were clustered. The biggest problem for a pizza deliverer is getting the money quickly from the customer. I happened to have had a great night.”

Related Articles

Hat Trick

Three stadiums north of downtown Detroit, including a new $450-million arena for the Detroit Red Wings, will do what ‘The Joe’ never could — create an annual $900-million economic powerhouse.

Swinging for the Green

Michigan's top northern golf resorts have joined forces with the Pure Michigan marketing campaign to attract more state and worldwide visitors with additional online services, capital improvements, and multi-resort packages.

Luxury Abounds

As the region’s housing market recovers, lavish homes priced above $1 million are moving again, but a full recovery is still on the horizon.

Champions of the New Economy 2014

For the fifth year in a row, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan, in partnership with DBusiness magazine and News/Talk 760 WJR, selected six regional executives who are driving growth in highly competitive industries.

Invention Factory

Since the early 1800s, Michigan has been a hotbed of inventions and innovations. For the first time, we offer an invention timeline that highlights 35 advancements that have served to save lives, drive business, and change the world.

Most Popular

  1. Exclusive: Downtown Royal Oak Draws Four Restaurants, Including B Spot Burgers
    Four new restaurants are coming to downtown Royal Oak, including a B Spot Burgers by Iron Chef...
  2. Venture Capitalists Go Big in Michigan, National Deals
    Venture capitalists invested nearly $122 million in 11 Michigan-based companies in the second...
  3. It’s Your Party, Detroit: Area Organizations Celebrate the City’s 313th
    Thursday marks the 313th anniversary of Detroit’s founding by the French explorer Antoine de la...
  4. Hat Trick
    Three stadiums north of downtown Detroit, including a new $450-million arena for the Detroit Red...
  5. Midtown and Northwest Detroit Draw New Apartments, Businesses, Expansions
    Business is booming in Midtown and northwest Detroit, where several stores and restaurants are...
  6. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Heads to Southfield for First-Ever Michigan Casting Call
    The Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield may be best known for its cooking classes,...