The rumor mill is churning like crazy in the Detroit sports world. The latest talk is that the Detroit Red Wings are going to play one more season at Joe Louis Arena and then join forces with the Detroit Pistons as a tenant at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
My first reaction when I heard the news was that the Red Wings are going to use a possible move out of the city as a negotiating chip with government officials. Blackmail is a favorite weapon of team owners looking to bilk taxpayers.
The Ilitches did the same thing when they were trying to get a new baseball stadium built. Threats to leave the city — and even the state — forced local politicians to fork over $185 million (plus indirect subsidies) to help build Comerica Park, lest the Tigers move to St. Petersburg, Florida on their watch. The Ilitches were able to secure taxpayer money from the city of Detroit, Wayne County and the state of Michigan.
But I have it from several reliable sources that the move to Auburn Hills is a serious consideration. Apparently, The Palace was recently configured for hockey at a private viewing for representatives of the Red Wings organization. Hockey was played at The Palace for years when the now-defunct Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League called it home. Despite the Vipor’s shortcomings, The Palace proved to be a great venue for hockey. Word has it that the Red Wings brass liked what they saw.
The Red Wings’ first choice would be to build their own arena behind the Fox Theatre. The Ilitches have been accumulating property in that area for over a decade. The problem is one of timing. The Wings have to make a decision regarding their lease agreement with the city of Detroit for The Joe in short order. And government coffers are empty at the moment. Bilking taxpayers may not be an option this time around.
Olympia Entertainment (owned by the Ilitches) and Palace Sports & Entertainment (owned by the Pistons) compete head to head for concerts and other traveling exhibitions. Olympia operates at a severe disadvantage because they are in an aging facility with very few of the amentities found at The Palace. Time after time, they lose out on big events to their northern rivals. This could very easily be a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
It is also being reported that when the two teams make a joint announcement concerning the consolidation, they are also going to announce their intentions to build an arena together in Detroit and move back to the city in the year 2020. The Pistons claim they are at a disadvantage by not being in the Motor City. Of course, it really doesn’t matter what they say now because there will be no way to force them to move again or build in Detroit. If the city of Detroit continues to deteriorate at the rate it has been, there may be no ligitimate reason for either team to move back ten years from now.
It is not unusual for cities with both a professional basketball team and a professional hockey team to share an arena. In fact, it’s the norm. To my knowledge, there are only two cities in the United States with both franchises that have separate arenas: Detroit and Phoenix. With a dying economy, it is very possible that our metropolitian area can no longer support two separate venues.
Is a Red Wings move to The Palace of Auburn Hills just a rumor? I think we’ll know quite a bit more within the coming weeks.