Fan support of any sports franchise ebbs and flows with wins and losses. The Detroit Pistons had little trouble filling the Palace of Auburn Hills in the years they won three championships and appeared five times the finals starting in 1988.
Dennis Mannion, who just completed his first year as chief executive officer for the new owner of Palace Sports & Entertainment, has the task of bringing back the crowds that boosted annual attendance above 900,000 in the mid-2000s. Last year, shortened by an owner lockout, attendance at Pistons games averaged two-thirds of capacity.
“Our goal is to rebuild the Pistons with deeper roots in the community and in the fan base,” said Mannion, whose career includes stints at the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Ravens and finally as chief executive officer through 2010 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Los Angeles-based financier Tom Gores, who bought PS&E in 2011 for about $325 million, hired Mannion after a management search. “My litmus test for wanting to work for an owner is that he is committed to the community and that wants to win,” Mannion said. “Our owner wants both of those.”
Beyond success for the Pistons and a financial return for the business, Gores wants “to bring people together and to thrill them,” Mannion said. To that end, Mannion has shaken up management, instituted new systems for ticket sales and created lots of ways to reach fans using digital technology. A mobile app is about to go live.
The first regular season game is at home on October 31 vs. the Houston Rockets and their unlikely sensation, Jeremy Lin.
The Pistons aren’t championship contenders this season, though they’re said to have a scrappy, young team with great potential. I asked Mannion five key questions about the team and Palace Sports & Entertainment. Here are his answers.
Q. How long will it be, in your opinion, before the Pistons can field a team reminiscent of the glory days of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups?
A: I think it would be irresponsible to put a timeline on when the Pistons will have another multi-year run of greatness experienced during the Bad Boys era led by Isiah and Joe and then the Going To Work era led by Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups. What I can say is that we are pleased with the young nucleus we are currently building around with Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey along with other draft picks like Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond. We have a President of Basketball Operations in Joe Dumars who has built a championship team as an executive and also sustained one of the most successful runs in sports from 2001-2008. We’re excited about our future and the momentum we are building going forward.
Q. What, briefly, are you doing to improve the fan experience at the Palace?
A: Our focus every night is to thrill fans and provide a great experience at The Palace. Obviously it begins with team success, but we also look at fan experience from the time you enter the building until the time you leave. In the last year we have upgraded and enhanced the performance quality of seven entertainment teams including the Detroit Pistons Dancers and we have added a series of halftime concerts featuring prominent national recording artists. We offer promotional nights each game of the week that appeal to fans across all demographics and added a “Power Hour” from 6-7 p.m. each game night that features music, food and beverage sampling, merchandise discounts and meet and greet opportunities with Pistons personalities. This season we are also debuting a Pistons “Action Guide” game program that includes a souvenir player poster and gives fans an opportunity to interact and win prizes each quarter of the game.
Q. Why does it cost so much to come to the Palace to see a Pistons game?
A: I would argue that pricing for a Pistons game at The Palace compares favorably to many entertainment options within the Metro Detroit area. Our affordability ranking is favorable in comparison to the rest of the NBA with individual game tickets starting as low as $10 and we currently offer three 10-game “BIG” plans that start as low as $90 a seat.
Q. What makes you think the new owner, Tom Gores, is committed to maintaining the Pistons as a quality basketball franchise?
A: We are fortunate to have a great principal owner in Tom Gores who provides our organization with the tools necessary to build a winning product on and off the basketball floor. His commitment to the team can be seen by the investment he has made organizationally and in facility upgrades to The Palace and the Pistons Practice Facility. He has guided our vision for thrilling fans each game night and also spurred the beginning of the Come Together Foundation which honors “game changers” in cities across the state with the opportunity to attend and experience Pistons basketball.
Q. How is digital technology changing the way that fans experience the Pistons through the media?
A: As an organization we have been very aggressive in our use of digital technology and innovation through the development of our social media assets, fan affinity clubs for men, women and kids and the creation of our Pistons Programming Network for inside-access video content on Pistons.com. We value the close working relationship we have with our broadcast partners to stay on the cutting edge of television and radio production while examining new ways share inside-access content and programming with our fan base. Fans consume media and team information in a completely different way than in the past and you need to be able to reach them on multiple levels – through traditional media, digital media and social media.