Cleat Geeks

Goin’ to Work: What a Detroit Return Would Mean For The Pistons

Following seemingly endless speculation of a return to the city of Detroit it seems as though the Pistons are now seriously eyeing the prospect of making this return a reality.

Per reports from Crain’s Business Detroit, the Pistons are looking to build a new, 60,000 square foot practice facility downtown, a move contingent on working out a deal to share the new Little Caesars Arena with the Detroit Red Wings. Talks have reportedly been ongoing between Olympia Entertainment CEO Tom Wilson and Palace Sports & Entertainment (PS&E) vice chairman Arn Tellem.

littlecaesarsarenaWhile PS&E owner Tom Gores calls the Palace the Pistons’ home for the foreseeable future (a venue that he has renovated and modernized to the tune of nearly $50 million, mind you), all signs point to the team making their return to the city of Detroit after a nearly 40-year absence.

In my own opinion it seems as though a return to Detroit is long overdue, as the Pistons haven’t played home games downtown (save for a few uses of the Joe Louis Arena) since 1977, when they inhabited Cobo Arena. Ever since, the team has played out of the way of most of metro Detroit, making their home in the northern suburbs of Oakland County since 1978: first at the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome, followed by the Palace of Auburn Hills, their home since 1988.

To me, this is a move that would benefit both the Detroit Pistons and the city of Detroit.

From club’s standpoint, imagine two aspects: ticket sales and the fan base. While attendance was among the best in the NBA in a stretch  running most of the 2000s, it quickly fell to the opposite end of the spectrum when the team fell on hard times in 2010 and has since failed to recover. Factored in with a subpar on-court product and playing home games in the largest venue by capacity in the NBA, the location of the arena likely doesn’t serve to benefit ticket sales (for example, the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers, while not playoff teams during the 2013-14 season, managed to keep themselves among respectable levels of average attendance, likely aided by the downtown locations of Vivint Smart Home Arena and the Q, respectively).

Even last season difficulties arose in filling seats at the Palace, ranking 25th in average league attendance despite the club’s resurgence and their first playoff appearance in seven years. Even this season a large quantity of tickets still remain for the home opener against the Orlando Magic that sits less than four weeks away. Prices are reasonable yet fans continue to stay away.

palaceofalburnhillsA possible reason is that, while offering plentiful on-site parking the Palace is not in a location that is conducive to a large portion of the metro Detroit area. Personally, even during the rough years, I would have gone to games if the arena was not in such an inconvenient location (I live south of the city, the Palace is north).

Should the Pistons return to the city they will be in a location that is central and accessible to fans in the western and southern suburbs of Detroit (i.e. Livonia, Ann Arbor, Taylor, Monroe), as well as the northern suburbs (i.e. Royal Oak, Troy) in which they currently reside. The fan base north of the city (barring construction projects because, come on, it’s Michigan) will face little difficulty in making the trip to the city while more of the fan base from these southern and western suburbs will be able to more easily make the trip to see a young team that is on their way to NBA prominence. Should ticket prices remain in their current, reasonable range, the club could very well be looking at higher sales, which in turn will generate more revenue that the club can put to use in everyday organizational operations, including pursuit of free agents and extensions on existing contracts (looking at you, KCP).

While downtown and on-site parking will not be plentiful, options will be far from non-existent.

Little Caesars Arena is situated on Woodward Avenue on the western side of Interstate 75, opposite Comerica Park and Ford Field, the respective homes of the Tigers and Lions. Parking garages and lots for these venues, as well as elsewhere in the city surrounding the arena, can operate year-round (in the case of Comerica Park) or on extended basis, as well as making use of parking already existing with the Fox Theatre garage as well as the Grand Circus Park garage, located less than a mile east of the arena. Additionally, there are casinos in the city as well as many bars in the newly revitalized Corktown district of Detroit that run shuttle buses on game days for the other Big Four teams in the city, as well as for major concert events. Thus, these services will be available for Pistons games.

Benefits to the club will also benefit the city of Detroit. The entire District Detroit project, spear-headed by Olympia Entertainment owner Mike Ilitch, will provide new housing projects, retail, and dining options for a city which direly needs them. The bars that run shuttles and house fans for games on a night-to-night basis will see increases in business that will allow them to keep their doors open. The Pistons organization will be able to get more involved downtown with youth organizations and community service projects, much like you see from the Tigers, Red Wings, and Lions.

While, in principle, the idea seems simple, there is a bit more, in reality, that needs to be done to make it work. A marketing approach to tout the venue as the home of both the Pistons and Red Wings must be established, as well as the working out of sponsorship and suite leasing issues, among other details. It’s not without its difficulties but it’s something that can, and likely will, happen.

A city already on the comeback trail like Detroit can always use as many helping hands as it can get. The prodigal son Pistons making their return to their city would provide just that.

Comments? Dissenting opinions? Post them below!

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