The Arena That Changed Sports Business was Blown Up

The memory lingers on.  

The Palace of Auburn Hills is no more. They took dynamite to the 32-year-old building in Auburn Hills, Michigan and flattened it. The building will now be a mere footnote in the history of the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons but it is far more than a blip in history. It is that building that started the real corporatization of the NBA and in sports. Pistons owner Bill Davidson used $70 million of his own funds to construct the venue. Davidson’s 1988 arena was built with the corporate customer, not the average Pistons or basketball or sports fan in mind. The Davidson arena had 180 luxury boxes which generated much more money than average seats. The building stood in marked contrast to the arenas that were built for expansion teams in Charlotte, in Miami and in Orlando during that time period which had just a handful of luxury boxes. Two years after the Miami arena opened in 1988, NBA Commissioner David Stern was wondering out loud why his league bothered to put a team in an inadequate arena that lacked high revenue generating luxury boxes and high-end seating. 

Almost five years after the Orlando building opened in 1989, Magic executive Pat Williams started talking about the need for a new Magic home. Orlando suffered from the same problem that Miami had. Not enough high-end revenue producing seats. In Charlotte, Hornets owner George Shinn was unhappy with his situation at an arena which had the largest seating capacity in the NBA but few luxury boxes. Shinn would move his business to New Orleans in 2002 after Charlotte voters said no to funding a new facility. Miami and Orlando got new buildings. The Auburn Hills facility is gone now but the building deserves a place in history. It was a building for well-heeled customers not fans.

. (AP Photo/John Raoux)