Red Wings Owe Detroit Millions in Uncollected Cable Rights Fees

Arena lease promised the city a share of money, but funds haven't been collected


Mayor Dave Bing pledged last week to get tough on the city's debtors, but he and other mayors have never collected on tens of millions of dollars that could be owed by the owners of the Detroit Red Wings.

A little-known provision in Olympia Entertainment's lease of city-owned Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Arena promises Detroit a 25 percent share of cable television rights for live events. That's been the deal since 1980, but Detroit hasn't been able to collect a dime, according to city documents obtained by The Detroit News.

One rough estimate from finance staffers last year estimated the city is owed $70 million, but a national sports economist cautioned it's likely much lower.

The revelation comes as Olympia — led by Red Wings and Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch — wants to use up to $12.8 million a year in tax dollars to help fund a new downtown arena. Critics say it's time to pay up.

(Hat tip to Reason commenter Translucent Chum.)