The Palace of Auburn Hills is considered one of the best-marketed facilities in the country. Since opening in August of 1988, The Palace has annually been one of the top-grossing facilities of its size. This year it will host the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship, while top-drawing artists from Rod Stewart to Lady Gaga will perform before sellout crowds. Nuclear Cowboyz will motor in later this winter, thrilling crowds with their freestyle motocross.
The Palace has been home to the Detroit Pistons since their first NBA championship season, in 1988-1989. Prior to that, from 1957 to 1978, the Pistons played at Olympia Stadium and Cobo Arena. In 1978, when Joe Louis Arena opened, former Pistons owner Bill Davidson chose not to share the new facility with the Detroit Red Wings, instead moving the team to the Pontiac Silverdome. The Silverdome offered poor sight lines for basketball fans. A few years later, Davidson headed a group to purchase vacant land in Auburn Hills and built The Palace for the relatively low cost of $70 million, using private funding.
Since the Piston’s first championship, The Palace’s address has changed each time one of its basketball occupants wins a championship. Its current address is 6 Championship Drive, reflecting the Pistons’ three NBA titles and the Detroit Shock’s three WNBA titles.
Now there is talk that the Pistons might relocate again, to downtown Detroit. Might.
Current Pistons owner Tom Gores was asked recently if he would move the Pistons downtown should there be a proposal to build an arena. Gores hemmed and hawed before admitting that if it helps the Pistons grow, he’d be open to it.
At first blush, it makes sense. The Wings have been playing their brand of Stanley Cup hockey on the waterfront since 1979. The Lions moved into Ford Field, next to Comerica Park, a decade ago, and the Tigers have played baseball in the city since 1900, and there’s been pro baseball downtown since the Wolverines in the 19th century.
One of only a handful of cities around the country to boast teams representing the four major team sports, it would certainly be a boost to the local economy to have the entire quartet located downtown.
On the other hand, The Palace remains a state-of-the-art facility. On top of that, Gores has invested heavily in its infrastructure since taking over ownership. Would he vacate a facility that’s less than a quarter-century old, where he gets the parking, the concessions, the signage around the arena, and move to a new facility owned by someone else, and give up those peripheral revenue streams? Would he create 41 dark nights in his own arena by moving the major tenant, which he also owns, into someone else’s facility?
And what about the fans, many of whom moved to Oakland County to be near the home of the Pistons?
While Gores’ answer was politically correct, with just a hint of truth — assuming the planets align to make it worthwhile for Gores to move the team back to Detroit — don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.