If a picture is worth a thousand words, there isn’t much left to say about the opening night for the Detroit Pistons 2017-18 campaign, which took place in front of a sparse (at best) crowd at the brand-new Little Caesar’s Arena on Wednesday night.
While the Detroit Free Press recap of a tidy Pistons win mentions the opening welcome by famed Motor City native Eminem and the numerous other local celebrities in attendance, it doesn’t give a crowd total. Probably because it doesn’t look like many besides the dignitaries made the trip.
As of 11PM Wednesday, we couldn’t find an official attendance figure anywhere for the contest. Not on the Piston’s website, nor the AP recap of the game, nor on the official box score. But it’s plain to see that the number probably isn’t what anyone looking forward to the team’s first opening night in downtown Detroit in over 40 years was hoping for.
Deadspin.com covered the crowd using the headline “The Piston’s Couldn’t Give Tickets to their First Game at Detroit’s Dumb New Arena Away” – embedding numerous screen shots from the broadcast of the game as well as twitter shots from those in the stadium to illustrate just how empty the building was. The website even pointed out an email sent to Quicken Loans staff members in the company’s Detroit office on Wednesday afternoon offering 50 tickets – free of charge – to anyone who wanted to head down to the arena.
There are always numerous reasons for a poor crowd. Downtown Detroit hasn’t exactly been spared many bad headlines for its urban decay in the past few years (or decades). The Pistons have fallen far from their early 2000s heights that saw Rip Hamilton and Co. make the NBA’s Eastern Conference their playground, making the playoffs only twice in the past decade and never advancing out of the first round.
Another reason: Michigan has as strict a ticket resale restriction in place as anywhere in the United States. And the teams have been putting the squeeze on anyone operating in the secondary market that they can at the same time.
A 1931 law in Michigan (Michigan Compiled Laws § 750.465) makes it illegal to resell a ticket above its face value price without the written consent of the event operator and venue operator. According to that same law, it is illegal to resell season tickets if they have the ticket holder’s name on them and the tickets state they are non-transferable.
One broker who contacted TicketNews says that the law isn’t strictly enforced, but that the team has been active in taking tickets away from brokers wherever it could, and simply doesn’t have the market savvy to move prices around in a dynamic marketplace the way that brokers do. Between that and a team that is far from the top echelon of the league, you’ve got a perfect recipe for exactly what happened in Detroit. Empty seats, poor fan experience, and the kind of headlines that make any ticket sales pro wake up in a cold sweat.
Every hot team wants to dictate how it interacts with the marketplace, but the Detroit Pistons, on Wednesday night at least, served as a reminder of the vital role the secondary market plays in filling seats, for good teams and bad.