Under New Management: Redesigning The Palace’s image


AUBURN HILLS, Michigan — When he purchased the Detroit Pistons back in June, we knew that new owner Tom Gores would be unlike any owner the franchise — or city — had seen before. He’s young, flashy, and by all indications has a serious affectation for Deep Vs. Fundamentally, the organization didn’t match his style or personality. And bringing the Pistons – and all of Palace Sports and Entertainment – in line with that now seems to be a top priority.

A new look

That was immediately obvious when I wandered into The Palace’s west atrium for yesterday’s media event and was greeted by what Pistons President Dennis Mannion called a “brand test.”

The new west atrium.

This design, empty space and a sleek metallic finish accented with blue neon lights, is just one of the updates Gores has brought to The Palace, an arena some find lacking an identity. It seems that management shares that opinion, and revamping the image of The Palace was the first thing Mannion mentioned.

After a brief introduction we were led downstairs into one of the newly renovated performer locker rooms, another example of the facelift-in-progress. The team intends to have more performances during games – before, during quarter-breaks, and sometimes even after – and they are investing accordingly. Ensuring that The Palace is an elite entertainment venue is a high priority for Gores, and the early returns are good: when visiting for their recent concert both Kanye West and Jay-Z reportedly “loved it.”

We viewed a short presentation, then headed to the players’ locker room. In the way stood the largest door I’ve ever seen, surrounded by that same blue light and metallic finish, in stark contrast to the rest of the hallway.

What’s Behind the Blue Door?

I never had an opportunity to see the old player facilities, but I can’t imagine them being on par with what awaited us behind that door. There’s no doubt that Gores is serious about keeping his players happy.

Those chairs are seven feet tall.Tempting.

The U-shaped room has that familiar blue glow (which can be switched off, of course), and each locker (including one each for Damien Wilkins and Vernon Macklin) is equipped with an iPad station for players to review plays, stats and other multimedia. The lockers open to a huge flat screen TV, where coach Lawrence Frank can show film and diagram plays. And the adjacent player lounge looks more like a penthouse suite than what you’d find in a basketball arena. I imagine changes like these might make players want to stick around a little longer, which can’t be a bad thing.

Improving the fan experience

In addition to the facilities, the Pistons want to bring the fans into the 21st century with a digital makeover. An email newsletter is in the works, and there are plans to eventually produce 24 short videos per week, each catering to multiple fan groups. New projectors and lasers have been installed above the court for more elaborate light shows, which we were assured are to be controlled by very complex software. Mannion also told us about big plans for social media integration, including live-updating Twitter boards coming in February. I wondered to myself whether Charlie Villanueva would be participating (gosh, I hope so).

The team has even made reducing traffic congestion a goal, potentially using electronic signage and even smartphone apps – a plan that is somewhere in the “observe and act” phase. It seems that nearly every facet of attending a Palace event is up for review and improvement.

The bottom line

With the focus today so heavily on expanded entertainment and the improved facilities, one might wonder how much attention is actually being paid to basketball. By the end of the day, however, it was apparent that the Pistons organization hasn’t lost sight of why people come to Auburn Hills. “The best way to thrill the fans is to win,” Mannion admitted. “We need great play on the court – number one, by far.” And with that attitude in mind, it’s easy to see what all these changes are really about – getting the Pistons back into championship form.