Palace, Olympia to merge entertainment operations

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Detroit’s new downtown arena could create a log jam for concert performers who will have to share the building with the Detroit Pistons and the Red Wings.

It’s part of the business operation that will be ironed out by the entertainment arms of the Pistons and the Red Wings, which are merging as part of the deal to bring the Pistons downtown to Little Caesars Arena.

With the two teams’ seasons running from October to April and potential playoff runs stretching until mid-June, opportunities for concert acts at the new 20,000-seat arena will be limited, experts say.

“Those calendars are going to be booked solid,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry trade magazine Pollstar. “There undoubtedly are going to be some shows that won’t be able to route their way in to Little Caesars because of that. They may skip over Detroit and come back on a later tour leg.”

It’s hardly a situation unique to Detroit. Ten venues in other cities host concerts and count multiple sports teams as tenants, including Chicago’s United Center, home to the NBA’s Bulls and the NHL’s Blackhawks; New York’s Madison Square Garden, which plays host to the NBA’s Knicks and the NHL’s Rangers; Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, home to the NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s Flyers; and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which is home to the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, and the NHL’s Kings.

The deal, which is not yet finalized, will bring together Pistons owner Tom Gores’ Palace Sports and Entertainment and Ilitch Holding Inc.’s Olympia Entertainment, and will give the new entity control over the area’s top entertainment venues.

Those properties include Clarkston’s DTE Energy Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre in Rochester Hills, Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights and downtown’s Comerica Park and Fox Theatre, as well as Detroit’s City Theatre and the Sound Board at Motor City Casino.

“We’ll be able to offer all the people of this community tremendous first-class entertainment,” said Arn Tellem, vice chairman of business operations for Palace Sports and Entertainment, on Tuesday. He called the new partnership a “win” for the community and for artists.

In between sporting events and other bookings — the Grammy Awards eat up about 10 days every February — the Staples Center in Los Angeles routinely books around 30-40 concerts a year, said Cara Vanderhook, the building’s senior vice president of communications. The venue is already booking dates into 2018.

“It’s about managing that schedule and knowing what the open dates are, and making sure that promoters and managers and agents and artists are all aware of what open dates we do have,” Vanderhook said. “It’s like a big puzzle.”

Sometimes those puzzle pieces run into one another. In May 2013, a Rolling Stones concert date at the Staples Center had to be moved when the Kings went on a playoff run; the show was rescheduled two weeks later.

Concert giant Live Nation books a healthy percentage of shows at both the Palace and Olympia Entertainment venues and that’s not likely to change, Pollstar’s Bongiovanni said, so consumers likely won’t experience much change.

“Live Nation brings a lot of shows into Detroit; they’ll still do that whether they’re partnered with Olympia or the Palace or the new entity,” Bongiovanni said.

When reached Tuesday, Live Nation representatives had no comment about the potential changes in store for the marketplace.

Palace Sports and Entertainment owns DTE Music Theatre and has operating agreements with Meadow Brook and Freedom Hill. The operating agreement with Meadow Brook runs through 2024; the terms of the Freedom Hill deal were not disclosed when PS&E assumed control of the venue in November 2015. Calls to Freedom Hill owner Tom Celani were not returned Tuesday.

The Palace currently has concerts scheduled through September 2017. The final date booked, as of Tuesday, is Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on Sept. 8, while Bruno Mars (Aug. 12) and Roger Waters (Aug. 2) also are booked to play the venue next summer.

The last concert currently scheduled at Joe Louis Arena is Green Day on March 27. The arena is scheduled to be demolished in 2017.

Little Caesars Arena is expected to announce its first concert bookings “by or right after the first of the year,” said Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment.

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