Detroit — If you build it, they will come.
That’s not necessarily so, especially in the case of Little Caesars Arena, where both the Pistons and Red Wings have had trouble drawing large crowds early in their respective seasons. The attendance issues in the first season at the ballyhooed new state-of the-art arena in Detroit, which attracted the Pistons from their still-pretty-darn-good home at The Palace of Auburn Hills, has been well-documented.
There are myriad reasons for the empty seats, ranging from fan malaise to higher ticket prices. Just a quick gander at the cost for upper-level seats for some random games seems to be price-prohibitive for many fans. Along with all the excellent new elements of the fan experience from the concourses to the premium areas, there seems to be a price to pay for the newness of Little Caesars Arena.
More than that, though, getting larger crowds for the Pistons is going to require a change in behavior from a new segment of the fan base that isn’t yet accustomed to coming downtown for games. While The Palace had a somewhat consistent group of dedicated fans, many of them were from Oakland County and are not making the trek to downtown Detroit — for many of the same reasons that Detroiters weren’t heading up to Auburn Hills.
Many had expected that with the opening of the new arena, city residents and those from disparate parts of the metro area would flock to the new digs. It doesn’t appear so — at least so far. And it’s readily apparent on TV and in photos from social media: the bright red seats may have been a bold aesthetic choice, but turned out to not be such a good idea for video. There are as many of those empty seats in wide camera shots as there are of fans in them in the pricier lower bowl.
There’s some truth to the notion that some of those fans are in the concourses, suites and other club areas away from their seats during game times. I’ve seen it at Little Caesars Arena and some other arenas around the league.
Certainly, most folks — especially the casual fans who might be occupying the suites — would more likely be fellowshipping and networking in a more conversational environment than in the sensory overload that arena atmospheres have become, with music blaring and an ever-present entertainment fix.
Even on Sunday, when the Lions’ game dovetailed with the start of the Pistons’ afternoon matchup against the Miami Heat, there were plenty of empty seats. Just think about the ticket prices for a Lions game and add on a little juice for a Pistons ticket — and that’s alone, without taking a family or a group into consideration.
It likely will get better with time, but it’s just going to be a process.
Sure, the Pistons are off to a 10-3 start and are one of the surprising stories in the NBA this season, but it’s going to take potential fans more time to buy into it. Many in the area have been bludgeoned by hopeful hot starts by the Lions in previous years, only to be dropped off at the corner of reality and despair by season’s end.
The Pistons look to be for real with this visage of a good start, including wins over the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. The die-hard fans seem to be on board. They’re just waiting on the fringe fans to join them on the bandwagon.
Maybe if you build it — and they win — then they will come.
The Monday Drive takes a look at a few other observations from the Pistons’ surprising start:
1. The injuries to Stanley Johnson (back) and Jon Leuer (sprained left ankle) haven’t seemed to hurt the Pistons so far. They’ve just filled in the spaces with other good reserves. Maybe the Pistons have the most bench depth in the NBA. That would be saying something.
2. Andre Drummond is going to be an All-Star. And Tobias Harris might be right there with him. So much has been written about Drummond’s new role in the offense, but his overall maturity has been the biggest reason for the Pistons’ success this season. They’ve moved to a motion offense and he’s been the engine, with unselfish play and good decision-making.
3. Give coach Stan Van Gundy credit for listening to his brother Jeff and the coaching staff. They insisted on shifting to a motion-centered offense, augmenting Stan’s pick-and-roll, and it has worked wonders. They are a bit more unpredictable and teams have to respect Drummond with the ball out near the 3-point line.
4. Most fans want to know if this Pistons start is for real. The answers are yes and no. It’s real in the sense that they’ve won a few games that were surprises but they’ve also not dropped many that they were “supposed” to win. That’s the mark of a good team. We won’t know for sure until they get on a good losing streak then have to bounce back.
5. Avery Bradley is quiet-natured, but he’s making a lot of noise on the court with his consistent play. Many of the players point to his impact on both sides of the ball as one of the big boosts they’ve had in their swagger in locking down on defense. Van Gundy has said he’s a steadying force because they know what they’re going to get from him on a nightly basis. That’s something some Pistons teams haven’t had — but they do now.