“Never in my wildest imagination or dreams would I have been lucky enough to land where I am,” says Robert Carr, senior vice president of operations and legal affairs for Olympia Entertainment, a sports and entertainment venue management company based in Detroit, Michigan. As a young boy, Carr loved to play pond hockey and cheer on his hometown team, the Detroit Red Wings. He never expected that he’d end up working for the iconic franchise, yet that’s exactly what he’s done for the past eighteen years. Carr also serves as general counsel and alternate governor for the Red Wings.
Carr, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and accounting from Albion College and a law degree from the Detroit College of Law, joined Olympia in 1997 after consulting for Olympia while partner at Detroit-based law firm Dickinson Wright.
The demands of handling operations and legal affairs for both a professional hockey team and an entertainment venue company keep Carr on his toes. No two days are alike. They’re jam-packed with a variety of tasks, especially as he and his colleagues prepare for the 2017 opening of a new $450 million arena to replace Joe Louis Arena, the thirty-six-year-old home to the Red Wings and host to dozens of concerts and other live events each year.
In addition to the arena, Olympia owns and operates the Fox Theatre and City Theatre in Detroit and is responsible for booking shows at Comerica Park and the Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel. Michael and Marian Ilitch own Olympia and the Detroit Red Wings, as well as the pizza chain Little Caesar Enterprises. Michael Ilitch also owns the Detroit Tigers, a professional baseball team.
Carr’s latest project is a new arena, the Detroit Events Center. It will be part of a mixed-use sports and entertainment district that will transform dozens of blighted blocks into five new neighborhoods.
“This is a new beginning for a part of the city and an area of the city that really hadn’t seen a lot of action and activity for so many years,” Carr says.
Carr is excited for the new arena’s modern amenities and the peace of mind that they bring. As facility manager, he worries about the Joe Louis Arena’s aging infrastructure and the inherent challenges that exist with such a building. The new facility will feature state-of-the-art Wi-Fi service, ticketing systems, and concession operations. Fans will be able to use tickets on their smart phones to validate their parking, enter the building, and purchase concessions in a seamless process.
Although the opening is still two years away, Olympia employees already are experiencing success in selling sponsorships, suites, club seats, and premium seating. They have a marketing center where prospective clients view 3-D models of the district and a build-out of an actual suite.
While Carr is excited for the new arena, he remains focused on his legal responsibilities for Olympia and the Red Wings. He looks over every contract for every entertainment event at the venues, which means he works with artists’ representatives and has detailed knowledge of the demands and desires of musical bands and entertainers.
“It’s been interesting to see what people want to have in their dressing room, and what they like in terms of fresh flowers or all red M&Ms. That sounds like its fiction, but it’s actually true,” he says, though he doesn’t publicly share those details.
Carr’s duties for the Red Wings run the gamut, from overseeing sponsorships, suites, and concession contracts to trademark enforcement of the Red Wings brand, which is frequently counterfeited. He’s not involved in the drafting of player contracts, which are part of the collective bargaining agreement, but he occasionally deals with immigration issues for players and helps them with various other matters.
Each pre-season, Carr talks to players about the importance of being mindful of their public behavior, cautious about who they associate with, and how they present themselves on social media.
“I don’t know whether they ultimately really listen to me. They seem to, but I think we have an obligation as an organization to advise the players the best we can and give them the support that they need to make sure that they’re making the right decisions,” Carr says. “And I think that we have been very fortunate, because I’ve been doing this eighteen years without any major off-ice issues.”
With so many responsibilities overseeing both legal affairs and operations for Olympia, in addition to serving as general counsel to the Red Wings, Carr often finds himself working ten- to twelve-hour days, plus attending games and events in the evening. He’s usually on duty at the games, making sure everything runs smoothly.
“In any business like this, things come up last minute that need immediate attention, and I have to be very mindful of the fact that we run a business and that we have clients, whether it’s an advertising client or it’s a promoter of a big event at one of our venues,” Carr says. “Sometimes the agreements or operations need immediate attention and I’ve got to drop what I’m doing and attend to that.”
Carr also speaks highly of his colleagues. He has four direct reports that oversee legal, operations, food and beverage, hospitality, and security, as well as hundreds of event-based staff. “I have great people that work for me and I put a lot of faith and trust in them,” Carr says. “I’ve always been a big believer that you hire good people, you give them the room in which to do their jobs, you support them, you’re there for them when they need you, but let them do their job and reward them for their success.”