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Detroit Pistons off to sizzling start, but fans slow to get on board

From NBA media reports

If someone would have told you the Detroit Pistons would sit in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings some 13 games into this season, you’d have laughed out loud. But the Pistons are the ones smiling after collecting their fifth straight win yesterday while continuing their surprising start in a redemptive season for coach Stan Van Gundy’s crew.

* Recap: Pistons 112, Heat 103

Now if they could just get the home fans out in full force at their new downtown home. The only disappointing factor in the Pistons’ season-opening surge has been the absence of bodies at Little Caesars Arena. The new digs are the Pistons home after years at the Palace of Auburn Hills in northern suburbs. It’s a complicated issue, one Rod Beard of the Detroit News does his best to explain:

If you build it, they will come.

That’s not necessarily so, especially in the case of Little Caesars Arena, where both the Pistons and Red Wings have had trouble drawing large crowds early in their respective seasons. The attendance issues in the first season at the ballyhooed new state-of the-art arena in Detroit, which attracted the Pistons from their still-pretty-darn-good home at The Palace of Auburn Hills, has been well-documented.

There are myriad reasons for the empty seats, ranging from fan malaise to higher ticket prices. Just a quick gander at the cost for upper-level seats for some random games seems to be price-prohibitive for many fans. Along with all the excellent new elements of the fan experience from the concourses to the premium areas, there seems to be a price to pay for the newness of Little Caesars Arena.

More than that, though, getting larger crowds for the Pistons is going to require a change in behavior from a new segment of the fan base that isn’t yet accustomed to coming downtown for games. While The Palace had a somewhat consistent group of dedicated fans, many of them were from Oakland County and are not making the trek to downtown Detroit — for many of the same reasons that Detroiters weren’t heading up to Auburn Hills.

Many had expected that with the opening of the new arena, city residents and those from disparate parts of the metro area would flock to the new digs. It doesn’t appear so — at least so far. And it’s readily apparent on TV and in photos from social media: the bright red seats may have been a bold aesthetic choice, but turned out to not be such a good idea for video. There are as many of those empty seats in wide camera shots as there are of fans in them in the pricier lower bowl.

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