The Palace of Auburn Hills – Detroit Pistons
Photos by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
The Palace of Auburn Hills 6 Championship Drive Auburn Hills, MI 48326
Year Opened: 1988
In 1988, the Detroit Pistons made the move from the Silverdome in Pontiac to the elaborately named Palace of Auburn Hills. Located in a far north suburb, the Palace is located just over 32 miles from Detroit’s city center, the longest distance between an NBA arena and the primary city it represents.
The Pistons opened the new arena by winning back-to-back NBA championships in 1989 and 1990 behind the Bad Boys of Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, et al. Fifteen years later, the cast of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, and Rip Hamilton brought home the franchise’s third NBA championship in 2004.
Following the 2009 season, the Pistons found themselves in a state of constant disappointment, missing the playoffs in six consecutive season despite playing in a rather weak Eastern Conference. This resulted in the team ranking at or near the bottom of NBA attendance by percent of capacity.
This in part can be attributed to having the largest arena in the NBA with a capacity of 21,231. No doubt that team performance had a significant impact, but the first rule in real estate is location, location, location. When all of those things converge (isolated location, poor quality on the floor, and an oversized building) it can take away from the overall experience.
A berth in the 2016 NBA playoffs hopefully signals the start of better things again for men of Motown. This arena may be out of the way, but once you’ve arrived, it’s a great place to see an NBA game.
Food & Beverage 4
The Palace offers up a good variety of food and drinks along their one single concourse which connects upper and lower level seats. There are plenty of local items, and that should be your focus, although prices seem a bit high overall.
It’s a long walk all the way around the concourse, so it would be worthwhile to check the Palace concessions list before you make your visit. Specific recommendations include the Open Pit Pork Belly Sliders from Maplewood BBQ ($12) near section 123, Smoked Kielbasa from Dearborn Sausage Company at the Linkery ($10) also near section 123, or more typical items from Championship Grill near section 110.
There is also a wide variety of beverages available throughout the area. Fans of local craft beers will be attracted to the Craft Brewhouse located near section 112. You’ll find selections from Michigan breweries like Bell’s, Arbor Brewing Company, Dark Horse, Founders, and New Holland ($9.50). Craft cocktails go for $13.50.
Coca-Cola products are available in two sizes ($4.50 and $6.50 for a souvenir size). You can also find bottled water ($4), Monster energy drinks ($6), and Tim Hortons coffee ($2).
The Palace of Auburn Hills nails it when it comes to entertainment value. The combination of the announcer, dancers, scoreboard videos, promotions, and in-game entertainment are hard to beat.
Seats are comfortable with slightly better than average legroom, but no cup holders. Even from the very back row of the upper seating section you have a good view of the action on the floor. The court design is classic bordered in red with the circular Pistons logo at center court.
The center scoreboard is one of the best in the league, with large screens and angled screens so that you have a view of the replays, video montages, and statistics whether you are sitting courtside or behind the baselines. It’s large without being the monstrosity that is taking over at many sports venues these days.
John Mason is a name you probably have never heard, but he is a master of the mic as the PA announcer at the Palace of Auburn Hills. His signature call of “Deeeee-troit Baaasket-balllll!” is perfect. He no doubt adds to the overall experience.
The Pistons offer a rather good drumline and dance team and you will hear and see them throughout the game during breaks in the action. Hooper, the Pistons’ horse-themed mascot, is also present in the stands and on the court throughout the contest. Look for Hooper to man a t-shirt turret and shoot shirts into the stands.
The Detroit Pistons also do a good job of attracting popular (or once popular) artists. In 2016, halftime performers included CeeLo Green, Young MC, The Four Tops, and Uncle Kracker.
For seating options, shoot for sections 201 or 230 so you are in the upper section near center court with a view of both benches. These seats provide good value as well as a good perspective of everything happening on the floor below.
There’s no doubt that location is the biggest negative of attending a Pistons game, although there are a couple of options for pre or post game food or drinks.
Ciccarelli’s 22 Sports Bar is located just across the street from the Palace, and has some of the biggest screens that you will encounter in a sports bar, including HD Theatre Projection screens. There are at least 40 screens in all, and they do a good job of ensuring that the day’s biggest games are up for your viewing pleasure. The food is good as well with sort of a Canadian-Italian undertone to the pub grub, including poutine and arancini mixed in with burgers, BBQ, pizza, and pasta.
A mile or so down the road is another classic sports bar, Hoops. They’ve been a mainstay in the area for more than two decades. Go for the wings here, or one of their burgers or sandwiches.
If you are looking for additional sports experiences while you’re in the area, check the schedule for the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies who put on a good show in nearby Rochester at the O’rena. Of course during the season there are also opportunities to find doubeheader opportunities with the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, and to a lesser extent with the Lions at Ford Field or Tigers at Comerica Park.
Auto enthusiasts should make a trip to the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. If you are looking for a hotel near the arena, then the Hawthorn Suites by Windham is your best bet.
The Pistons have ranked at 25th or lower in average attendance in the NBA in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2004, the team led the league in average attendance. Sure, that was a championship season, but the point is that the basketball fans in southeast Michigan have the wherewithal to make the trip to Auburn Hills when there is a quality team on the court. Now that the Pistons have once again returned to the playoffs, and have an exciting nucleus, it is time for Pistons fans to return and make an impact in the seats.
In the meantime, the benefit of having 5,000 or so empty seats is that you should be able to move around almost anywhere in the upper section to choose your seat. Seat assignments are more strictly enforced in the lower sections.
The fans that come to the Palace are knowledgeable of the sport and show good etiquette. You won’t see fans walking around very often while the ball is in play.
Getting to the Palace is not too difficult. It is located immediately east of I-75 and west of Highway 24. The local police and Palace officials do a terrific job of moving traffic out when the event is over. This is a huge bonus considering that arenas and stadiums that are in more rural areas tend to have more difficult times getting traffic moving slowly. During the week you can expect some rush hour traffic all around the Detroit metro area so plan accordingly and give yourself extra time. Parking will cost you $15 for Pistons games, and unfortunately you don’t have many options as there is no street parking to speak of, but there is plenty of room in the large lot surrounding the Palace. This price point is about average compared to the rest of the NBA. Given the low attendance, it may be wise to cut that cost down a bit to attract more fans.
Inside The Palace, the abundance of stairs is a bit daunting. Sharing one concourse for both the upper and lower bowl increases traffic and the concourses are not that wide to begin with. Washroom facilities are adequate, although you will find lines for both men’s and women’s restrooms during peak periods.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets for Pistons games can often be found for as low as $8-$12 on ticket marketplaces. Parking is near league average at $15, and food and beverage prices are about right, maybe slightly on the high side. Overall, everything is priced at about what you would expect. Look for daily deals in the Pistons team shop as well, especially as the season winds down.
An extra mark for PA announcer John Mason who brings so much to the Pistons experience.
An extra mark for the Palace being the first major arena being built while being completely privately financed.
An extra mark for Hooper and his slapstick routine that he plays with visiting players during the warmup.
One final extra point for the three championship banners and many retired jerseys hanging from the rafters at the Palace.
The Detroit Pistons are a proud franchise that seems to be on a resurgence. While the location isn’t ideal, the facility and in-game entertainment more than make up for any hassle in making the drive up to Auburn Hills.