Friday, October 22, 2010

Oakland, Mike Illitch, And His Plans For The Palace

Major changes are happening just down the road from Oakland's campus at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Executives at 3 Championship Drive (forgive me for ignoring the Shock) have been trying as they might all summer long to sell the Detroit Pistons franchise and its arena and entertainment brand to the highest bidder. Out of this process, it has been revealed that Detroit Red Wings and Tigers owner Mike Illitch will likely be the next Pistons and Palace owner. If Illitch does end up acquiring these valuable assets, many believe that he would eventually seek to move the Pistons back to downtown Detroit to play in a new arena shared with the Red Wings. Earlier this month, the Detroit News reported the following on how this would impact the Palace:
While it would likely continue to function, questions remain about the future of The Palace, which is the area’s premier arena. The 22-year-old venue undoubtedly would lose some of its luster if a new arena were to be constructed in Detroit near the Fox Theatre, as has been proposed.
In an even more recent article, the Detroit Free Press noted that "Mike Ilitch is 'definitely committed' to building a new sports arena downtown." While nothing is known for certain, it is clear that Illitch and Co. desire a new arena in Detroit, leaving the Palace to operate largely as an entertainment venue when tours would be willing to play there instead of the newer, more glamorous arena (like that will happen).

While there is a lot to be said about this plan and how it would disrupt the Pistons' prime fanbase, how it might be financed, and the implications for Oakland County, it could also directly affect Oakland basketball. Presently, Oakland U has a major edge in its ability to schedule marquee non-conference matches at the Palace. Not only do these games count as home games for the program, but they allow the coaches an opportunity to bring a major opponent to within 10 minutes of campus when said teams might not be keen on playing in the O'Rena. This has worked in securing games against the likes of Oregon, Michigan, and Michigan State in the past few years. And there is no reason why it wouldn't continue to be utilized in the future.

Unless, however, the Palace isn't operable. Those familiar with Oakland County and sports would be quick to point to the Silverdome as an example of a major sports stadium/arena which was left to waste once the primary tenant moved out. Simply put, these vestiges lose their value once teams leave, and no amount of secondary sports or events can change that fact. The Palace has maintained its look and value over the years because the Pistons play there still. If the Pistons are gone, concerts, sub-par sporting events, and trade shows won't be reason enough for those in charge to keep it at its current point of prominence. As a result, the opportunity for Oakland to host games there would likely be diminished.

The side effects of the Pistons moving out of the Palace and to downtown Detroit wouldn't end simply with the lack of a viable arena to host Golden Grizzlies games in. We'd likely never see Pistons players at Oakland games anymore like we did last year when Jonas Jerebko showed up a few times or Rodney Stuckey and Chucky Atkins on another occasion. The Recreation Center would no longer feature surprise visits by opposing NBA squads who practice there at times during visits to Auburn Hills. And what about the NCAAs? No one will ever forget the time Oakland played host to the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament and plastered the university's name on the center of the Palace floor. (I still think this had to do with the tournament sites transitioning to a neutral floor design for all rounds). While these might not exactly be tangible items, they do factor into helping the program and university while adding a bit of excitement to student life.

Over the next year or so, there will no doubt be many articles written about how a downtown arena for the Pistons and Red Wings would "do wonders for Detroit's economy" and "restore downtown Detroit's sports fortitude." I won't get into an argument about the economic impact of sports arenas, but I will say that the useful life of the Palace has not expired. Move the team to Detroit and the owners will have essentially put an end to a building that is still considered among the best arenas in the Association. Moreover, it would seriously squash a really great thing that has been beneficial for the Oakland program. For what it's worth, we hope Illitch will keep hold of the Palace until sensor-flushing urinals are as out of style as the troughs at the Joe.

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