The Pistons held their home opener at their new arena, and an L.A. Chargers game broke out

Everything I learned about great web headline writing I got from Deadspin, and this is one of their best:

The Pistons Couldn’t Give Tickets To Their First Game At Detroit’s Dumb New Arena Away

That’s right: Much like the Los Angeles Chargers, the Detroit Pistons dedicated their first game at their new home with tons of fans arriving disguised as empty seats. Here’s a lovely photo of the opening tip:

Okay, so this was a new arena, with all the new-arena bells and whistles — maybe everybody was still wandering around in the concessions concourses, looking for a bacon-wrapped hot dog. Those empty seats are pretty evenly dispersed around, not in entire empty sections, so that suggests people who bought seats but just aren’t sitting in them, right?

Except that Deadspin also reports that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who is partners with Pistons owner Tom Gores in an attempt to get Detroit city subsidies for a new soccer stadium — if all this owner fraternizing is starting to remind you of syndicate ball, you’re not alone — had his Quicken Loans staffers send out an email to employees offering 50 free tickets to the game for free to anyone who asked, “to celebrate our new Marketing partnership with the Detroit Pistons.” (Goofy capitalization in original.) In other words, Quicken Loans got a bunch of free tickets to the game as part of being a Pistons sponsor, but no corporate clients wanted to be wined and dined by being taken to a damn Pistons game, even at a new arena, so instead anybody who wanted got to go for free.

Most of this, clearly, is about the fact that the Pistons were terrible last year and will likely be terrible this year, and nobody wants to go see bad basketball. (Except for New York Knicks fans, apparently.) Still, it used to be that you could just throw open the gates of a new building and people would clamor to get in; now, there’s clearly some stadium fatigue going on, to the point where any new-arena honeymoon period for attendance may be measured in weeks, not years. Which is fine — we really shouldn’t have team owners trying to build stadium after stadium just to recapture the new-car smell — but still a significant change to the heyday of Camden Yards and the like.

About the most positive thing you can say about the new Detroit arena is maybe it’s got so many cool things to do that aren’t watching sports with your own eyes that fans are all off doing that during the game — that’s what seems to have happened during the Red Wings‘ home opener, which likewise saw seas of unoccupied seats. (Red Wings tickets are still holding their prices pretty well on the secondary market, a good sign of actual fan demand; Pistons tickets not so much.) I’m not sure “our arena is so great, you won’t want to stop to watch our team play!” is really the sales pitch I’d go for if I ran a sports franchise, but then, I’m one of those old-fashioned fans who goes to a basketball game to watch basketball.

17 comments on “The Pistons held their home opener at their new arena, and an L.A. Chargers game broke out

  1. Yeah I was going to say, it seems like owners/teams don’t care if you watch the game nowadays. As long as you’re in the building spending money. This opens up a whole new market of people who find sports boring, but enjoy overpriced merchandise, beer and food.

    • As I remarked after being subjected to Comic Con earlier this month, I’m sure the day isn’t far off when we’ll all pay $100 to sit in a stadium and just watch ads for two hours.

  2. At around 18 bucks a nosebleed there are worse ways to spend an evening in Detroit I guess….

    • I wonder what the view is like from the cheap seats in Detroit. I tried to test out that theory for the Nets a couple of years back, but the game was only a rumor from where I was sitting.

      • Supposedly the rink is very, very similar to the Bell Centre in Montreal. Which would mean very high and steep.

  3. Is that headline a split infinitive? I was a C+ English student, so what do I know, but, I would have gone with “The Pistons couldn’t give away tickets to their first game at Detroit’s dumb new arena.” I know it means we end with a prepositional phrase, but in the original the word “away” is so far from “give.”

    • It’s not a split infinitive, but it is a split verb clause. That’s allowable in English, but I agree that your version reads better.

      • Anything is allowable in English if people are understanding what you are saying. There are no “language police” and the ones that there are, are morons who don’t understand how language works.

  4. The location of the arena is a real issue. It feels like “Detroit”. That may be interesting to me and cool to the hipsters, but I think it’s a turnoff to Pistons and Wings fans.

    As far as the Chargers comp goes, get real. Every regular season game has sold out at the highest average ticket price in NFL history.

    As far as the scattered empties go, I think that’s two things. One, teams price tickets granularly nowadays (e.g. Row 10 costs $42, Row 11 costs $40, and so on). Two, most of the comp tickets and Groupon-type ticket deals are for “distressed inventory”, which usually means the upper reaches of each seating section.

    • This goes to my theme that teams should demand two stadiums, or at least keep the old one; and have one urban hipster stadium and one suburban stadium. Split the scheadule. It really solves a lot of problems, nobody has to mix (us Americans hate eachother now anyway), and 21 home games a year is plenty for most fans. The economics never made sense anyway, so forget the financing logic. The team can ransack the taxpayers (or fund it themselves) a new stadium every 20 years (or less) on an alternating basis.

      • Ahh…. The old Green Bay strategy when they split games between Lambeau Field in Green Bay and Milwaukee County Stadium in Milwaukee.

    • I think it is fair to say that the Chargers have probably sold out their games on the backs of visiting fans–which is swell, but doesn’t do much for merchandise sales, TV ratings, or anything else. It’s the NFL, so no one is going broke, but if you are an owner who actually wants to win home games–having 65% of the stadium rooting for the other team probably isn’t a great start.

      The Red Wings have played downtown and sold out games for decades, so I’m not sure why another arena in downtown Detroit would suddenly be a problem. But thanks for offering, Ben!

        • Well, locals (or ticket brokers) could be buying the tickets but not using them, then selling them to out-of-town fans.

          • Neil,

            I’ll agree that some Chargers fans bought their season tickets expecting to sell a few games. As far as brokers buying the tickets, I’m less sure. The Chargers intentionally “overpriced” their season tickets to keep brokers out. I’d guess that around 10% of the tickets went to professional brokers, maybe less.

            And, remember, the Broncos and Raiders games in San Diego were overrun with opposing fans for years, as were games against any team with better support than what the locals gave in San Diego (including Packers, Cowboys, Steelers, Eagles, Giants, Vikings, Ravens, Patriots, Bills, Redskins, Titans, Colts, Jets, Jaguars, Lions, Bears, Browns, Bengals, 49ers, Seahawks, Texans, Cardinals, Dolphins and maybe a few others).

  5. It was exactly the same here in Sacramento. I have a picture of it. Shortly before tipoff, the arena had a lot of empty seats. The arena never appeared to be more than 70% full to me. I can send you the picture if you want.

    Also, a news item today claims that business activity is up a whopping TEN PERCENT in the area around the arena! Ten. Entire. Percent! All because of the arena! Woohoo!

    (Sorry, but a 10% increase in business activity near the arena simply will not increase overall tax revenues by $6M for the City. That’d be nearly impossible.)