By Dan Jenkins
It’s no secret that Joe Louis Arena needs replacing — Mike Ilitch has known that for years.
The 37-year-old multi-purpose venue has not aged well, but it’s what the Detroit Red Wings and their fans have called home since 1979.
The Joe has character. It has history (in the form of four Stanley Cup Championships). It’s by no means one of the prettiest or sexiest arenas in the NHL, but that’s OK for Red Wings fans.
It’s their home.
At least for the next six months or so.
Just a few years ago, Ilitch convinced the city of Detroit to help him build a brand new arena on Woodward Avenue which is now taking shape as the heart of the city’s downtown revival.
Many fans wanted the Ilitches to honor the rich history of the Red Wings franchise by giving the new arena a unique, non-corporate name — like Gordie Howe Arena or Hockeytown Arena.
That didn’t happen. And many fans’ worst nightmare came true when it was announced that the venue would, in fact, be called Little Caesars Arena. Unfortunately, that’s just the business of sports — every newly-built arena has corporate sponsorship.
Nicknames galore began popping up online because NO ONE wanted to call the venue by its pizza namesake.
But the name of the venue is about more than money. It’s to show that it’s not JUST a hockey arena.
The Ilitches made that clear when the District Detroit project was announced. It was set to be blocks and blocks of retail, restaurants, bars and other great places to bring people to the neighborhood on nights there won’t be a hockey game.
Even when it was first announced, the project was referred to as a “mixed-use sports and entertainment district.” It’s already in the plans to host numerous college basketball events.
But, an original render of the proposed arena showed heavy Red Wings branding around the facility. That changed when the name of the arena was announced.
Now — three years after the project was approved — a wrench has been thrown into some Red Wings fans’ idea of what this arena is meant to be:
The Detroit Pistons will likely move back downtown and share the arena with the Wings starting next fall.
Strangely, some die-hard hockey fans are calling this a travesty.
“How can a hockey franchise as storied as the Detroit Red Wings possibly be asked to share their brand new arena with a lame basketball team?” I can hear them saying.
Pretty easily, actually.
14 cities host both NHL and NBA teams. Of those 14 cities, 10 of them have one arena for both franchises.
Detroit is one of the four that doesn’t.
The others are Miami (Florida Panthers and Miami Heat), Phoenix (Arizona Coyotes and Phoenix Suns) and Minnesota (Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves).
What a lot of people might not realize is that there are plenty of historic hockey franchises that share an arena with an NBA team, including four of the Original Six!
Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, four New York franchises and three Los Angeles franchises all share arenas.
The idea isn’t that profound. The Red Wings and Pistons shared the old hockey barn Olympia Stadium for four years.
Not only would the Pistons’ potential move downtown make sense from a business standpoint, it would double the amount of games hosted at the new arena and give more than just hockey fans something to be excited about.
So, yes; I know Red Wings fans were originally excited about getting a brand new, shiny arena all to themselves. But having all four professional sports franchises within blocks of each other is more important than that.