The lights go down and the bass pumps through the speakers with an intensity to restart your heart. Unbelievably, this is nearly the 25th anniversary of Detroit Pistons basketball at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The product may not be the championship caliber that Pistons fans expect from their team, but the overall arena experience is everything that a fan of the NBA could ask for.
It’s easy to remember the days when the Palace was the premiere venue in the NBA. The Pistons moved from the cavernous Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan and moved northeast to the suburb of Auburn Hills, north of Detroit.
The Pistons were able to win championships in the first two seasons in the Palace, and claimed a third title in 2004.
Much of the arena still feels shiny and new, and recent renovations that have made for a cleaner presentation in the concourse, and added some innovative group and party areas helping make the Palace a wonderful place to see the NBA. Now the team just needs to show improvement in the win column and the fans need to come out to see them.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is an ample selection with the concession offerings as you walk through the concourse, although the typical stands won't wow you with something you haven't seen at most NBA arenas. Encased meats include your standard hot dog ($4), kielbasa, bratwurst, or Italian sausage ($5). The kielbasa is a very good choice, and the classic Detroit sausage.
There are also several sandwiches and entrees to choose from including Philly cheese steak ($7.50), fish & chips ($8), chicken sandwich ($7), cheeseburger ($6), bacon cheeseburger ($7.50), and veggie burger ($6). Drinks include the bottomless Coca-Cola soda ($6), bottled water ($3), and coffee ($1.75).
Hungry Howie's is the pizza vendor at The Palace, and you can get an 8-inch personal sized pizza for $8. I'd recommend skipping this one, as a pizza I had a good 45 minutes before tipoff tasted like it had been sitting for hours.
Beers on draft will run you a cool $8.25 for macro options like Budweiser, Bud Light, and LaBatt ($8.50 for a bottle or 20-ounce can). On the west side of the concourse you can find a microbrew concession, offerings some of the best beers in Michigan including Founder's, Bell's, and Arbor Brewing Company, among others ($7.50 for a draft). Next to that you can find a Lienenkugel's stand, in case you need a taste of the North Woods.
The real beauty of the food and beverage inside The Palace are the numerous restaurants and bars inside the arena. The Comcast Pavilion on the north side of the arena features a build your own burger bar, Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Bull Bar (featuring Red Bull cocktails), and a Captain Morgan Bar.
The Palace Grille offers fine dining, and fans should plan to make a reservation if they plan to visit before a Pistons game. The restaurant offers fish, steak, quail, and lamb entrees ranging from $17-$26. Next door to the Palace Grille you will find the Old No. 7 Club, serving slightly elevated bar food. Both are open to the public two hours before tip time. Given that there aren't a lot of great bars and restaurants immediately near The Palace, this may be the best place to spend time pre-game, especially since you don't have to re-park.
Finally, there is the Terrace Club, which is also open to the public two hours before the game begins, located above the east entrance. This is a bar that you can access just off the concourse. There are other more exclusive clubs for use by season ticket holders, and people who purchase suites, which aren't typically accessed by fans. I can tell you that they look pretty nice, as I had a chance to take a look during my most recent visit.
The Palace of Auburn Hills sits alone, just off of I-75, north of Detroit. You will likely enter through the west entrance which has mirrored ceilings, which make the facility feel a bit futuristic, but set the tone that this is still a modern venue after a quarter century.
Once inside, you will climb the stairs or take the escalator up to the roomy concourse. Grab some food and head for your seats. One of the best features of The Palace seating is the legroom. All seats have better than average legroom, although only the 100 level seats have cupholders. It would be a great addition for the Pistons to add cupholders to the 200 level seats. After all, it is difficult to clap with a beverage in one hand.
The attendance for Pistons games continues to be an issue with the overall atmosphere. There are just too many empty seats to really provide that electric feeling while you watch an NBA game. The team certainly does its part to up the entertainment level as much as possible.
The lights go off for pre-game introductions and the bass pumps as the team is introduced. It really is a lot of fun.
The Pistons organization certainly realizes that rebuilding years are difficult for the fans, and have been offering halftime concerts in an effort to create more of a draw. In the 2012-2013 season you can expect Motown Monday's to feature a famous name linked to Detroit's music past. Additionally, t-shirts are thrown into the crowd every time the Pistons make a three-pointer.
The mascot Hooper, who is a horse (as in horse power), does a fantastic job of interacting with the crowd. He really seems to be a major celebrity as you will hear fans shout for him from the upper deck just for the recognition of having him look up. He does make his way throughout the arena during the game, and has a good presence on the floor during breaks.
If you are looking for the best seats to see the game, aim for the 200 level near the front at center court. In sections 201-202 or 229-230 you will be able to view both benches while having a good view of the play on the court.
A new group area is also opening for the 2012-2013 season, located high above the basket nearest the Pistons bench, the organization knocked out 16 suites to create a large bar area, which is a fantastic place to view the game below if you're looking for a more social occasion.
There are a few options for a pre or post game meal or drink. I stopped into Hoops, a sports bar featuring 12 beers on tap, and typical bar food. The place is packed with memorabilia for all of the Detroit sports teams, so it's a decent place to get you in that sporting mood. The cheeseburger I tried was pretty decent, and my tab with a beer was less than $10. They also have a pool table, hoop shoot game, and different Michigan lottery games like Keno present. They do happy hour from 2pm-7pm Monday-Thursday, so if you are seeing a game during the week, then this would be a good place to hang out pre-game.
Santa Fe Mexican Restaurant is nearby as well if you are in the mood for some pretty average Mexican food. My recommendation is to go to the arena early if you want to get something before the game, or spend a few hours hanging out at Hoops.
The biggest piece missing from the experience is from the fans. Most recently I saw a very exciting Monday night game that drew just over 10,000 fans but it felt like there were fewer than that. This is one drawback of having the largest capacity in the NBA and having a rebuilding team.
The fans were a little more into the game than what I had witnessed the previous season. It is difficult to be a fan of a team in the NBA that does not make the playoffs. When fewer than half the teams don't get invited to the party, you can feel a little left out. A winning team may cure what ails the review in this category, but true Pistons fans may want to come back now while the prices are low, and the potential is present.
There are over 8,000 parking spaces that surround The Palace, and the cost to park for a Pistons game is only $10. The arena is located very close to I-75, and traffic back-ups before and after are fairly manageable, although it is a safe bet that you can add 20 minutes to whatever you get off of Google or from your GPS estimation when going to a game.
Once inside, you will find wide concourses, and plenty of bathrooms, which are very clean. The concourse has been re-done in 2012, and it is a very clean interior look. When there is a small crowd like what I experienced, then there are no lines to contend with when looking for concessions or restrooms, but even with a full house, there seems to be ample space.
Tickets start at just $10 for upper level seats, and with attendance being as low as it has recently, you can easily move around into a better seat. That being said, most of the seats feel reasonably close to the action, so I would feel perfectly comfortable with most seats in the upper section. I would shoot for sections 201, 202, 229, or 230 optimally so you can sit even with the court and face the player benches. Those seats start at $40 after the ever-annoying Ticketmaster "convenience" fees.
Lower level seats range from $25-$82 depending on where on the court you want to sit (more expensive along the sides, less expensive behind the baskets).
In down years like 2013, you can also find good deals on individual games or smaller packages, so look for those if you are considering a visit.
With reasonable parking, and concessions that are not as excessive as other NBA venues, you could put together a fairly affordable trip to The Palace for about $30 per person. Really what's missing at this point is a quality product on the floor and the raucous fans to support them.
The Pistons PA announcer, John Mason, is one of the best in the business. His call of "DEE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL!" is well known to Pistons fans, and his nicknames and commentary are entertaining.
Mike Abdenour, the Pistons trainer, is also a mainstay, and is a lot of fun to watch. Abdenour began as the Pistons trainer in 1975, and other than a 3 year stint with the Philadelphia 76ers, he has been on the Pistons bench. He serves almost as an assistant coach, but you can see him direct the ball boys, or other staff during the game. How this guy isn't in the National Athletic Trainers' Association Hall of Fame is beyond me.
A third extra point for the cool sound effect that can be heard on a swish. I think the basket must be mic'ed up, but however they do it, it's a pretty fun effect.
An extra point for the staff at The Palace. Everyone that I interacted with was pleasant, knowledgeable, and helpful. This is often the most overlooked element of a good arena experience, and the Pistons have done a good job in ensuring that their staff are committed to providing a great experience.
Finally, sitting beneath the banners of three Championship trophies, as well as the retired numbers of notable names like Isiah Thomas (#11), Joe Dumars (#4), Dennis Rodman (#10), Vinnie Johnson (#15), Bill Laimbeer (#40), Dave Bing (#21), and Bob Lanier (#16) is pretty special. I appreciate that the franchise has also retired #2 in honor of Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly (in honor of his two championships won as Pistons coach), as well as banners honoring long-time GM Jack McCloskey and long-time owner William Davidson, both of whom had significant impact on the Pistons most successful years.
While this may be a down era for the Pistons basketball team, the arena experience continues to be stellar. Rising stars like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight may help to make the Pistons a playoff contender, but in the meantime, a trip to The Palace is a good deal by NBA standards, and worth a visit.
The distance between the Pistons' home and their fan base is greater than any of Detroit's other three major league teams. Situated in Auburn Hills, the extreme northern end of Detroit's metropolitan area, the Palace is worth adding the extra mileage.
Late owner Bill Davidson built the Pistons' first modern facility in 1988, after sharing three unsuitable venues the previous 30 years. And like new Yankee Stadium in 2009, it housed a world champion the year it opened.
Financed entirely with private money, the arena cost $70-million to construct. Along with the Pistons, the Palace was also home to the WNBA's Detroit Shock for 11 years before the franchise relocated to Tulsa, OK. In the offseason and when the Pistons hit the road, it doubles as a premier concert venue, attracting high-profile acts like Bon Jovi and Neil Diamond.
It's amazing to think that the Palace is already nearing a quarter decade old. I remember when the Palace was first unveiled, and it was such an upgrade over the Silverdome that it was unbelievable. Today it is still a great facility, I just wish that it was closer to the revitalized sports district in the city of Detroit, rather than up in Auburn Hills.
In 1988, the Detroit Pistons moved out of the cavernous Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan and set up shop in the nearby suburb of Auburn Hills, Michigan. Their new home was audaciously named "The Palace," and it was meant to usher the Pistons into a new era of championship basketball.
Sure enough, the Pistons won the franchise’s first NBA Championship in that inaugural season, and went on to repeat in the 1989-1990 season. The Pistons claimed their third championship in 2004. Only the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, and Spurs can boast about winning more NBA titles than Detroit.
Today, as we approach the silver anniversary of The Palace, much of the venue continues to have that shiny and new feel. Renovations continue, including the current renovations going on in the entryway and at the box office. The purplish composition of red and blue is being replaced by blue and silver (don’t worry, there are no plans to reclaim the teal color of the Grant Hill era).
While the Pistons are fully immersed in re-building mode, the arena experience retains an atmosphere that feels like you are seeing one of the best teams in the NBA.
I can't begin to express how terrific the Palace of Auburn Hills was. I LITERALLY stepped foot into the palace for my first game on 11-12-12 against the Thunder of Oklahoma City. We lost 90-92, but I still had fun. I liked the food, arena atmosphere, the game itself, the PA Announcer Eric Mason, the seats, the view and the lobby. What I wasn't to find of was the audio system, Mason's voice faded in and out. It's just totally amazing. I went with my sister and brother-in-law. I truly want to come back again sometime, if you haven't been to a game yet, then drive on down to cheer on motown.
If you like basketball and you know how to drive a car, the Palace is a perfect place for you. This building is 25 years old and it's still a great place to watch a game. It opened back in the glory years of the Pistons during the "Bad Boy" Era when tickets to a Piston game we're nearly impossible to come by. Nowadays they have to beg people to show up with numerous promotions. With the economy being what it is, it's worth the value to see an NBA game. It makes for great entertainment for the whole family.The Palace is located 30 miles North of downtown Detroit in Auburn Hills on I-75. They shoot t-shirts into the stands when a Pistons make a three point shot which is really cool. By reading this, you'll be ready if and when they make one. Hope the Pistons can return to the glory days soon but in the meantime enjoy the cost effectiveness of seeing a game there.
2705 Lapeer Road
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
2655 Lapeer Rd
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
1650 N Opdyke Rd
Auburn Hills, MI 48326