Pizza Peril: Little Caesars Arena Is Already An $860 Million Disaster

Chris Morgan

This fall, Little Caesars Arena in Detroit opened. It began as a new home for the Detroit Red Wings, replacing the outdated Joe Louis Arena. It’s named after the pizza company founded by longtime Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who died before the arena was completed and before the new season began.

It was your usual arena process. Ilitch and company got a bunch of tax money to build the arena. They claimed it would bring more business to Detroit. It would continue the revitalization of the city. Eventually, the Pistons announced they would also be playing at Little Caesars this season, leaving the Palace of Auburn Hills behind.

On paper, this could make sense. This new arena would mean that all four Detroit sports teams would actually be playing in the city’s downtown area. Joe Louis was a dump that smelled like stale beer. The Palace was a good 40 minutes from the city proper. However, so far the whole Little Caesars Arena plan has been a disaster.

This is not to knock the arena itself. It’s conveniently located, and the Tigers and Lions have had no issues with attendance in Detroit. It is a new arena with a lot of nice amenities. The problem is that, unlike in Field of Dreams, they built it, but people aren’t coming.

This has been a particular problem for the Pistons. They made the decision to jump onboard the project after the Wings already began it, and it didn’t pay off. The attendance issues began with the opener. The game was announced as a near-sellout 20,491. A true near-sellout would be a problem in and of itself for the opener of a new arena, but this was a paper sellout.

They probably sold that many tickets, but not nearly that many people showed up. The crowd was so sparse it was a talking point in the sports world. Their second home game was Monday against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was even worse.

The announced crowd was 13,709, which is bad for the second game at a new arena. If you look at the crowd, though, there isn’t nearly that many people there. This is not a five-digit crowd. The seats at Little Caesars are bright red, one of the Wings’ colors, which makes the empty ones stand out even more.

Sure, the Pistons are a mediocre team, and maybe if they were still a championship contender the crowd would come. That’s not a good excuse, though. If they were still at the Palace this would be bad. At a new stadium that cost a reported $863 million, much of that taxpayer money, it’s a total disaster. Due to the vagaries of ticket selling, the Pistons are probably still making cash from personal seat licenses and season tickets. However, the optics are bad, and people are going to keep talking. You can’t claim you are revitalizing a city when you are drawing almost nobody to your arena.

By the way, the Wings are also having trouble with their ice quality. Maybe it’s a good think Mike Ilitch isn’t alive to see this. Little Caesars Arena was his dream. In less than a month, it has turned into a nightmare.

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