OK, so this is a bit awkward: Dan Gilbert, the patron saint of downtown Detroit, co-founder and owner of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers has, per The Detroit News, publicly advised Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores to move his franchise downtown.
As a fellow member of the billionaire boys club, Gilbert’s advice may have been considered sound business. As a fellow NBA owner, Gilbert’s advice and the public nature of it may be inappropriate. Gilbert, after all, has much deeper ties in Detroit than Gores does. As multibillionaire corporate-types go, Gilbert is the best one Detroit has. Unlike Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, Gilbert hasn’t tried to rewrite the Michigan Constitution to serve his ends. And unlike Detroit Red Wings and Tigers owner and Little Caesars founder Mike Ilitch, Gilbert doesn’t play hardball with the struggling city over taxes.
The News’ Mike Wilkinson reports: Gilbert, talking during a morning breakfast Thursday at the Detroit Athletic Club, said fans will flock to a downtown setting even when teams are doing poorly, taking in local restaurants, bars or a casino.
“It’s an experience,” Gilbert said. “Let’s face it, (arenas) don’t belong in a farm field in the suburbs.”
The Cavaliers finished with a worse record than the Pistons this season, but Gilbert said the team still drew about 15,000 fans a game this season to its downtown arena, while Gores’ Pistons at times were noticeably bringing in only a few thousand while reporting far higher attendance figures.
For more than a year, Pistons’ officials have said they are committed to The Palace in Auburn Hills, pouring millions into renovations that will keep them there for the “foreseeable future.”
Gilbert compared the world’s interest in Detroit to its interest in Cleveland. Detroit, he said, is covered by rapt media from across the globe. Cleveland?
“There is absolutely no fascination with Cleveland,” he said.
My unsolicited advice: Gilbert and Gores should pull off a first in NBA history and swap franchises, with additional cash going to the owner of the more highly-valued team (or, if that team is the Pistons, Gilbert should pay for the emotional attachment and the chance to land a whale for downtown).
Owning the Detroit Pistons would allow Gilbert to move the area’s last suburban pro sports franchise to the heart of the city, joining the Tigers, Red Wings and Lions. Gilbert’s investment portfolio already includes 22 downtown buildings and the Greektown Casino. Bringing the Pistons downtown would secure Gilbert’s place in Detroit history. Being responsible for the team another person owns coming downtown wouldn’t have quite the same oompfh.