In a three-day period next week, those attending the Palace of Auburn Hills will have the chance to see two teenage phenoms with major crowd-pleasing abilities. How the organization promotes these two performers to fans, however, is a very different process.
The Pistons worked hard to unveil the many sleek new renovations to the Palace this week to get ready for a huge crowd for one of these performers — 18-year-old Justin Bieber, who takes the stage there Nov. 21.
When discussing those renovations, Dennis Mannion, president and CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment, said that the new amenities will be tested out during the sold-out Bieber concert. I didn’t ask Mannion about the marketing efforts to promote the Bieber concert, but I think it’s safe to assume by the signange, advertising, etc., that preceded Bieber’s stop in Auburn Hills, that Palace Sports and Entertainment, or any organization for that matter, would have no bones about heavily using Bieber’s extremely popular image to sell out its facility and make money. It’s good business.
But the example also shows an interesting balance in the roles of Mannion and others whose job it is to get fans inside the Palace. The other young performer referenced above, of course, is 19-year-old Pistons rookie Andre Drummond.
Now, Drummond is obviously nowhere near the star or box office draw that Bieber is. But it’s undeniable that, despite a poor start to the season for the team, Drummond’s intriguing talents have fans more interested in the franchise than they may have been otherwise if the team had started 0-8 without Drummond on the roster. The Pistons, quite simply, have rarely had a raw athlete capable of making the exciting, above-the-rim, crowd-pleasing plays that Drummond has already done fairly often this season.
But despite that potential — Drummond is a threat to get the Pistons a highlight worthy of the SportsCenter Top 10 every time he steps on the court — you will see the entertainment side of the operation, much like the basketball side, taking a very cautious, measured approach with Drummond, extremely careful not to give him more than he’s ready for or over-expose him.
“It (Drummond’s fan-pleasing ability) will hopefully be a huge advantage for us down the road,” Mannion said. “For us, the responsibility we have is everything we do has to be contributive to winning. If we over-promote or over-play our Andre hand and put unnecessary pressure on a 19-year-old, then shame on us because we’ve broken a cardinal rule.”
Much like Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank have often preached a patient approach, both with Drummond and the team as a whole, and despite objections from fans desperate to see a more competitive team, Mannion is fully behind that take-it-slow philosophy as well, even with the undeniable star potential Drummond has and interest he is already generating among fans.
“Joe Dumars will do everything he can to not negatively effect our chance to make money,” Mannion said. “But equally, we won’t do anything to impact their ability to win games and build a team. So we would never put them in a situation where they’d have to tell us ‘calm down on (over-promoting) Andre.'”
Mannion suggested that a time could come, even soon, when Drummond’s play merits more promotion, but he said that should be a natural process based on Drummond’s on-court growth and his off-court readiness for the responsibilities that come with being a franchise cornerstone type of player.
“If his ramp up gets real, and if Lawrence goes from eight minutes to 12 minutes to 16 minutes to 20 minutes a game and Andre handles that, there’s going to be a point where we start to build on that,” Mannion said. “It’s not a light switch that we just suddenly turn on and start doing, it’s more like a gradual ramp up.”
Mannion noted, however, that the Pistons are unlikely to ever be a team solely focused on one player in its branding efforts, something that actually fits with the way the team has been marketed throughout its modern history.
“Another thing we’re sensitive to is we’re a team,” he said. “Even if he (Drummond) gets great, we’re not going to build our world around him, like someone would build around Lebron. It’s just not how Joe (Dumars) builds his basketball team and I don’t think it’s how Tom (Gores) wants to build this basketball team either. They want to have a balance, and that kind of stuff where you over-promote one guy can have an extraordinarily negative impact on a clubhouse. We are fostering an environment where these guys can grow together.”