“It’s the Pistons, man — they never win,” said Daniel Bronston, 29, a cook who was at a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves late last month. (He was exaggerating. The team is 8-3, and it handily beat Minnesota that evening, 122-101. But it is fair to say that the Pistons’ performance in recent years has been anemic.)
Then there is the area itself. Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ coach, said that Little Caesars and the surrounding neighborhood were too full of distractingly fun stuff to do, so that fans would be lured into wandering outside and would not return to their seats to watch the game.
“They build these great restaurants, and everybody goes and eats,” he said recently. “The first half of the third quarter, there’s no one in the building.”
For almost 30 years, the Pistons played at The Palace at Auburn Hills, in a Detroit suburb that hosted the franchise’s Bad Boys-era title teams of 1989 and ’90 and also its less pugnacious championship squad of 2004.
Suburban fans who came to the game against the Timberwolves last month said they were having to adjust not only to the new location — a hard thing for fans who like old routines — but also to the new breed of visitors.
“Ten years ago, nobody wanted to live downtown, and now everybody does, especially young professionals and ‘hipsters,’ as they call them,” said Dustin Kosnik, 26, an engineer in the auto industry. “Hipsters want to do everything before it’s cool.”
As far as the Pistons management is concerned, the arena is extremely cool. Built by Olympia Development, part of the Ilitch family empire, it cost $862.9 million, $324 million of it in public financing. It has brought new life to a once-neglected area of Detroit, with retail shops, upmarket restaurants and handsome new or recently renovated housing.
The arena was originally built for the city’s hockey team, the Red Wings, which relocated from the Joe Louis Arena across town. (The Ilitch family owns the Red Wings and the Little Caesars pizza chain, which explains the arena’s name.) Fans grumbled about the name, which they found déclassé, and about the huge Little Caesars logo on the roof of the building — a man in a toga waving a pizza on what appears to be a spear — which they found annoying.
“I’m officially embarrassed,” one Red Wings fan, Brent Latam, wrote on Twitter. Nicknames proposed by disgruntled fans for the new arena included The Oven, Pizzarena, The Frozen Pizza and Voldemort arena (“because I will never refer to it by name”).
But if Cleveland fans could get used to showing up at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers play, then surely Detroit fans can cope with a gym named after a pizza conglomerate, even one that fails to use an essential apostrophe in its title. “Welcome to Little Caesars Arena, the newest, most exciting arena in the world!” blared a loudspeaker from the side of the building as fans arrived for a recent game.