By Carol Cain
Could the Detroit Pistons be Motor City bound after a nearly 30-year hiatus?
It’s not out of the realm of possibility according to Palace Sports and Entertainment President Dennis Mannion, who made the comments during a “Michigan Matters” taping (the show airs 11:30 a.m. Sunday on CBS62) during a far-flung conversation about the team purchased a year ago by Tom Gores, the billionaire private equity investor.
“I think that Tom Gores, the kind of businessman he is and the type of community spirit he is, he’s open to anything,” said Mannion, who runs the business operation of the Pistons, The Palace of Auburn Hills where the team plays, and other entertainment entities.
“Right now it’s a tricky equation because the Palace of Auburn Hills is the Palace of Auburn Hills. It’s got a storied history, a regime prior to my coming and a fantastic job of building its brand up and it is a beautiful place so it’s a tough equation,” he added.
Still, Mannion said Gores would welcome a chance to sit and talk options with Mike Ilitch.
Ilitch owns the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, and he and his wife, Marian, own Little Caesars and Olympia Entertainment.
There has been talk for years about replacing Joe Louis Arena, which is aging and where the Red Wings now play.
The team reportedly hired HKS, co-designer of American Airlines Center, to work with Chan Krieger NBBJ, a Boston architect specializing in urban developments, in the venture.
Sources said the Red Wings want to develop an 18,000-seat facility to replace outdated Joe Louis Arena. It went on to say the team has also considered the option of renovating the arena, as well as sharing the Palace of Auburn Hills with the NBA Pistons and building a new arena for both teams.
“Our organization has been on record as stating we’d like to have a new arena downtown,” Karen Cullen, spokeswoman for Ilitch, said Friday when asked for comment.
“And, we are open to meeting — and often do meet –with folks looking to collaborate on prospective projects in our community,”she added.
Motor City driven
The conversation over a potential move was raised by Dan Gilbert, Motor-City minded founder of Quicken Loans and majority owner of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers.
He talked about the benefits of the Pistons being downtown during a “Pancakes and Politics” panel event last year as the team was being sold to Gores.
“I think everybody understands and knows that arenas should be in an urban chorus, “ Gilbert said then. “An arena that just sits by itself, whether that was in the city of Detroit or a suburb, it just doesn’t’ make a lot of sense.”
Detroit and Sacramento are the only teams that don’t have their arenas downtown, Gilbert added.
Gilbert has been among Detroit’s biggest boosters along with Mike and Marian Ilitch, Pete Karmanos, and others. Gilbert has been moving his business empire to Detroit and buying buildings along Woodward Avenue to serve as a catalyst for more growth.
Good Sports in the City
Mannion, a seasoned sports executive who has been involved in the running of other NBA, MLB franchises, moved to the Michigan a year ago.
“I love Detroit!” said Mannion, “ Detroit is the number one sports community in America. I love all of the teams like the Red Wings, Tigers and the Lions,” he added.
Mannion’s dad worked at the now defunct Crowleys retailer and his parents lived in Metro Detroit in the 1970s.
Gores, a native of Flint who lives in California, is a successful private equity financier. He purchased the struggling Pistons from Karen Davidson, widow of the late Bill Davidson, a year ago. She has a minority stake in the team.
While talk may simmer about the future, Mannion said the organization is hard at work sprucing up the 28-year-old Palace with a $13 million facelift that will be completed in time for the October start of the NBA season.
The organization is launching its “Come Together” community effort Sunday with a concert event featuring Sheryl Crow and others.
As part of the celebration, the Pistons-Palace Foundation will be recast as the Come Together Foundation – a 501(c)(3) charity that will be collaborating with community organizations to raise awareness and provide financial support in the areas of volunteerism, youth leadership and NBA League sponsored programs
The rest of the story
Mannion also talked about other things, like his new boss.
It was Gores’ unbridled enthusiasm for the community and team and making a difference that inspired him to take the job.
Though the economy has been tough and impacted the Pistons and Palace as all other businesses, things are slowly on the rebound.
Mannion added that Pistons jerseys will likely feature a small sponsorship patch in the not too distant future.
It’s not only about revenue but getting greater brand exposure for the NBA franchise.
He pointed to the success of the jersey patches in the English Premier League, which generated $178 million in revenue according to forbes.com.
The NBA jersey patch idea still needs the blessing of the league.
In another twist showing the blending worlds of Michigan’s well-known sports and business families — Grand Rapids-based Amway signed up last year as the first ever presenting sponsor of Ilitch’owned Red Wings which included its name on scoreboards, center ice and also on patches on jerseys.
Amway is owned by the DeVos and Van Andel families. Rich DeVos – patriarch of the family – owns the NBA’s Orlando Magic, along with his family. Amway also has its name on the Florida arena where the team plays.
When Amway and Red Wing officials announced their deal earlier this year, they talked of prospects of doing others things together in the future.