I didn’t care much about a football game against Maryland. Thus, there will be no Michigan Football recap this week. However, Dalton continues to hold my family hostage, and mailed me what I believe to be my brother’s pinkie toe after I requested a week off, so you’re still getting an article.
Last Wednesday, I went to a Pistons game at the new Little Caesars Arena. I paid $20 to sit in the nosebleeds of a half-empty venue and watch the Stones down the Pacers in the midst of a 5-game homestand sweep that elevated them to second place in the Eastern Conference. Detroit’s exciting start has them poised to re-emerge into national relevance for the first time since the infamous Chauncey trade. But as their on-court product has garnered attention, so, too, have the vacant seats.
I came into my basketball fandom near the middle of the purgatory period from which they’ll only truly escape once Josh Smith’s deal is off the books. Through a mutual love of basketball and the Pistons, I bonded with my future college roommate on our middle school’s B-team. A shared pastime of obsession with the NBA draft helped keep us close when he moved to Tennessee in high school. Our armchair general managing spawned a litany of scalding takes that, thankfully, came before the advent of Twitter; you may find some poring through the archives of the Detroit Pistons Forum. (we loved Knight and Drummond, but were despondent at missing out on Jan Vesely). The halcyon days of the Goin’ to Work Pistons are but a distant memory; my fanhood has been defined by the dreary inertia of mediocrity. Detroit’s hot start offers a glimmer of hope that has been rarely seen over the past decade. With the Tigers and Red Wings rebuilding and the Lions being the Lions, fans should be dying to embrace this young and likable team. Combined with the appeal of a new and more local arena, the Pistons’ trajectory should have eager fans from a city with such a storied basketball history flocking to continued sellouts.
Little Caesars, to me, seemed like a typical modern stadium. Its steep façade of red seats offers an easy view from any spot surrounding the court, and should provide an imposing atmosphere for visitors with bigger crowds. And like any typical modern live sports experience, once the price of parking and concessions is factored in, it costs about $15 more than it’s worth. Obviously, some myopic, suit-and-tie prick with a calculator and a business degree has decreed that the current state of affairs will maximize profits. I’ve never understood the widespread embrace of an approach that produces lukewarm crowds and magnifies the allure of my couch. Local media luminaries seem to think that sustained on-court success will suffice to solve attendance woes. They may be right. But as long beers cost $arm and dinner costs $leg, I won’t often join the milquetoast mob of millionaires and suburbanites who will fill LCA in the meantime.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s easy to imagine the snowball effects of affordable tickets. A crowd filled with passionate locals would inject energy into the players. Rivalries would be reignited; Pistons-Pacers would recall at least some of the frenzy that sparked the Malice, rather than being relegated to a sparsely-attended mid-week throwaway. Little Caesars could evolve into a local Mecca. Building enthusiasm around the Pistons might spark something resembling the vision of municipal uplift peddled by the owners who bilk taxpayers in stadium deals. The NBA is thriving. If owners invest in good-faith relationships with fans, it will be easier to sustain success through any potential hiccups down the road, to the benefit of everyone involved. For now, however, Tom Gores has chosen to gamble ticket sales on Andre Drummond’s repaired septum sparking a surge to superstardom. I hope it pans out.
Note: Dalton is not actually holding my family hostage. I’m pretty sure he just sent me a random toe.