(credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters”

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It’s East meets West as three powerful Michigan families join forces today when the Ilitches, DeVos’ and Van Andels announce a blockbuster marketing sponsorship revolving around the Detroit Red Wings.

Mike and Marian Ilitch (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rich DeVos (credit: Fernando
Medina/Getty Images)

Steve Van Andel (credit: amway.com)


Amway – the privately held Ada-based company owned by the DeVos and Van Andel families – will announce it has signed on as “presenting” sponsor of the NHL team owned by the Detroit-based Illitches. The multi-year deal will include Amway’s logo being embedded in the ice at “the Joe,” and signage elsewhere at Joe Louis Arena, community programs to help young people in Grand Rapids and Detroit, and much more.

“The 50 year history and global success of Amway along with the elite status of the Wings organization are a considerable source of pride for Michiganders,” Steve Lieberman, vice president and managing director for Amway, said of the deal. “The partnership between our two Michigan powerhouses is a natural fit and a winning match,” Lieberman added.

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Amway will also present season ticket holders with Nutrilite and Artistry products, and early attendees of the Dec. 8 home game against Phoenix will receive bobble-head dolls. They will also partner in a cross-state initiative aimed at helping young people in Boys and Girls Clubs of America in Grand Rapids and Detroit. “We’re elated to have Amway as the first presenting sponsor in Red Wings history,” said Tom Wilson, president of Olympia Entertainment. “The unique similarities between our two companies make this a natural alliance that will enhance all areas of our operations, including player nutrition, fan experience and our dedication to the community,” Wilson added.

Sporting Way

It’s a continuation of the courtship that began last season when Amway was a minor sponsor as its logo appeared on Red Wings practice jerseys and on pucks. If there is one thing that binds the three families it is love and investment in sports. Mike and Marian Ilitch started Little Caesars in 1959 with a single store that grew into a multi-billion-dollar empire that includes the Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Fox Theatre, Olympia Entertainment and Motor City Casino. Mike Ilitch was a player in the Detroit Tiger’s farm system while Marian Ilitch, one of the country’s most powerful businesswomen, raised the couple’s seven children. She too played on her high school womens’ basketball team.

On the west side of the state, Rich DeVos, who co-founded Amway with childhood pal Jay Van Andel in 1959, were avid sailors. (Mr. Van Andel died in 2004). There’s a story of the bold duo who decided to set sail for South America in 1949. Their schooner named “Elizabeth” sank near Cuba and after being rescued their trademark optimism drove them to continue on via ramp steamer, rail and even a plane to complete their journey. One of the few items rescued was the ship’s bell that sits in a display case at the company’s Ada headquarters. The company started selling health supplements but grew into many others like soaps, cosmetics, and technology. Sailing still remains a calling as various DeVos family members compete in races including the recent Chicago to Mackinac and Port Huron to Mackinac race. And they have numerous national sailing championships. In addition, the DeVos family owns the NBA Orlando Magic while Amway owns the naming rights for Amway Center, home of the team. And the global firm is a sponsor of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes. Amway also hired former NFL player and “Dancing with the Stars” contestant Kurt Warner as spokesman for its Nutrilite brand.

Amway remains one of the largest privately owned companies in Michigan with 2010 sales of $9.2 billion. Amway is part of the Alticor group of companies which operates in more than 80 countries and territories worldwide The company – which has 90-percent of its sales outside of North America – wants to increased its presence here which is why it is getting involved in sports to help promote its products.

Carol Cain is Senior Producer and Host of the Emmy winning “Michigan Matters” that airs 11 a.m. Sundays on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit. You can read her columns on business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at 248-355-7126 or via email.

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