Detroit's Suburban Palace in Auburn Hills
The distance between the Pistons’ home and their fanbase is greater than any of Detroit’s other three major league teams. Situated in Auburn Hills, the extreme northern end of Detroit’s metropolitan area, the Palace is worth adding the extra mileage.
Late owner Bill Davidson built the Pistons’ first modern facility in 1988, after sharing three unsuitable venues the previous 30 years. And like new Yankee Stadium in 2009, it housed a world champion the year it opened.
Financed entirely with private money, the arena cost $70-million to construct. Along with the Pistons, the Palace was also home to the WNBA’s Detroit Shock for 11 years before the franchise relocated to Tulsa, OK. In the offseason and when the Pistons hit the road, it doubles as a premier concert venue, attracting high-profile acts like Bon Jovi and Neil Diamond.
Food & Beverage
There is a bevy of food and beverage options inside the Palace.
Searching for a loaded hot dog connected to various American cities? At the Captain Morgan stand, you can order more than just rum-related treats. Grab area-specific hot dogs from Memphis, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Miami, and Detroit (chili, shredded cheese, diced onions, and mustard).
If you desire a more refined location to please your palate, the Caesars Windsor Club welcomes all casino members. Those who are in the club can enjoy gourmet cuisine, specialty pizzas from their wood-burning oven, and hand-rolled cigars.
Make your way down the concourse through cart-rolling chefs and you’ll intercept the Corner Deli. They sell the terrific Tarragon Lemon Smoked Salmon on pumpernickel ($8) and the Red Pepper Smokehouse Turkey sandwich ($7).
Perhaps the most delicious delicacy in any Michigan sporting venue is fashioned in the Sanders Ice Cream stand. Sanders, a famous Detroit chocolate and candy company, built a name for itself the same year the telephone was invented (1875) by creating the Hot Fudge Cream Puff. A local favorite for over 100 years, visitors can taste the history of Detroit for $6. Further down the corridor, other equally-priced snack options include chocolate peanuts, cinnamon pecans, and honey cashews.
Of late, the Pistons have been an annual contender. But trades, injuries, and ineffective free agents have contributed to struggles on the court in 2010. Far below the high win totals common last decade, Detroit’s house has not sold out as regularly in 2010.
Though the stadium is not quiet, it is quieter. Though the fans are still passionate, the passion is less transparent.
The 11-time NBA attendance leader is no longer attracting the flow and energy of last decade, when it led the league in attendance six times. But ownership is trying.
T-shirt throwers enter the crowd, in lieu of lazily shooting them at spectators from the court. They also climb the stairways to give away free small Domino’s pizzas. A group of de-shirted fat men (the Spare Tires) dances for the crowd in between quarters, exposing the effect of gravity on their uncovered, over-sized pot bellies. Automotion, an opposite-gendered dance team, also entertains the crowd during pauses in action.
During halftime, a 25-foot-long Pistons mascot (Hooper) floats around and sometimes even rests atop the fans. Hooper also makes appearances on the court and in the stands throughout the game, capturing the attention of Detroit’s young and inebriated. John Mason, Detroit’s Public Address announcer, maintains an energy unmatched throughout the league. His trademark phrase “Deeee-troit basketball” is locally-beloved and nationally detested.
Do quality establishments exist within a few square miles of the Palace? Certainly. But let’s not confuse things, Detroit’s home was built in the middle of no man’s land, far from the bustle and excitement of an urban setting.
Once you pace thousands of feet of concrete, you stumble upon your first bar/restaurant, The Post. A popular Metro Detroit nightlife spot, the 3880 Lapeer Road location nearly bursts at the seams on game nights. The staff slings $2.50 drafts of beer before 9 o’clock and a host of other food specials are rolled out depending on the evening.
Hoops, another nearby establishment, is a highly-regarded pregame destination. Its specialty drink is the Shark Bowl (a mixture of liquor, juice, and soda) and it is generally viewed as a slightly more affordable option than The Post. Outside, a $4 shuttle bus will transport you to the game.
The sports-themed bars in the vicinity of the Palace are quite enjoyable. However, the concrete jungle dominating the area is quite a turnoff. If you’re an advocate of professional teams playing in the city that’s part of their name, then you may want to adopt a new NBA franchise.
When I visited the Palace in early April, Hooper was hobbling around on crutches. A mascot on crutches? It actually resembled Detroit’s fanbase.
The once-proud group of chirping followers has been oft-silenced. Crippled by inconsistency and a lack of depth at key positions, the Pistons no longer make their fans howl at elevated levels. An expected lull in an era of great success, Pistons fans will surely regroup and recover in the near future.
Even though the Palace is not selling out as regularly as in previous years, it still ranks eighth overall in attendance. And a marked number of those present display their affection for the franchise in donning team garb. I expect we will forever see Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars jerseys from the Bad Boys years.
What constitutes as accessible? Roads that lead to the Palace are not terribly difficult to navigate, but much of Detroit’s fanbase is not located on the Interstate-75 corridor, gameday’s most oft-used highway. Thirty-three miles from downtown, less than half of locals live within a half hour from the Palace. In fact, it is almost as close to Flint as it is to the southern suburbs.
Traffic can pile up near the Palace exits and every automobile that enters is required to spend $10 to park in a designated area. The only advantage to this organization-forced decision is that you won’t have to stress about parking on an ill-lit city street corner. Break-ins are extremely rare, with heavy security surveying the area.
Return on Investment
Responding to the area’s struggles, the Pistons reduced season ticket prices by 10 percent for those who purchased them before May 1st. The rest of Detroit benefited from a price freeze, as well—the average ticket price hung around the 2008-09 level and ranks among the lowest in the NBA.
Also, the Pistons deserve a lot of credit for jumping on an increasingly popular trend in professional sports: College students can buy $10 tickets. Nearby Oakland University students frequent NBA games down the street from their school, adding a noticeable number of young, vibrant attendees.
The price freeze and excellent competition makes heading to the game a worthwhile option. Fans can see stars like LeBron James and Derrick Rose a couple times per season, as well as current Pistons stars Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey. Though the team’s win total took a dive in 2010, it can be viewed as an anomaly, considering how the organization is two years removed from making six consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances.
What keeps Detroit’s return on investment from scoring a perfect five is the required $10 parking pass, although the pain can be lessened by carpooling.
Lower-level suites are a feature unique to the Palace of Auburn Hills. Much closer to the action than your standard “in the rafters” suites, occupants won’t need to pack binoculars the next time they head to a game.
Detroit scheduled giveaways for 30 of the team’s 41 home games. From Ben Gordon jerseys to Charlie Villanueva bobbleheads, ownership gave thousands of gifts 73 percent of the time.
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