Monday's The Detroit News brought the latest installment of the ongoing saga of where the Red Wings will play next season buried in a story about the Pistons and the Palace of Auburn Hills.
First, some background:
The Red Wings lease on Joe Louis Arena ends at the conclusion of this season. There has been talk going on for what seems like forever that Ilitch Holdings (whose subsidiary, Olympia Entertainment, runs both the Red Wings and the Tigers), wants to take a large plat of land they own near Comerica Park (mostly used now for parking) to build their own arena for the Red Wings. Of course, these plans were all in an environment in which credit was easy to come by: now, it would be very difficult for anyone, private or public, to get money to build it.
Let's call a spade a spade: Joe Louis Arena is a dump. Built in 1979, the facility was barely considered state-of-the-art at the time. Olympia Entertainment has shoved seats in every conceivable nook and cranny of that place (little known fact: the obstructed view seats that go for $9 per game used to hold concession stands). It was built primarily to keep the Norris family (who owned the Red Wings at the time) from moving out to Pontiac near the Silverdome. The lease is a sweetheart deal for Olympia Entertainment, paying almost no rent to the City of Detroit (the owners of the building) in exchange for upkeep of the building. The Ilitches have done little in the last 15 years to improve the facility itself: the out of town scoreboards no longer work, the concourse is now filled with obstacles making it hard to maneuver around, and the seats haven't been replaced in the entire 30-year stretch of the lease.
Chris McClosky, the Red Wings beat reporter for The Detroit News, wrote an article containing exactly one named source (Red Wings GM Ken Holland saying "he fully expects the team to play at [Joe Louis Arena] next season") that noted that Karen Davidson, who owns Palace Sports & Entertainment after her husband's death last year, is in talks with the NBA to sell PS&E (which includes the Pistons and The Palace of Auburn Hills).
McClosky noted that Mike and Marian Ilitch toured the Palace a year ago (something that was reported at the time). What he brings to the table are a couple of points:
* PS&E has put a five-year lease on the table to Olympia. Olympia has counter-offered.
* "Joe Louis Arena will need more than $10 million in structural repairs before next season."
The second point is huge for three reasons.
* That statistic is brand-new. A Google search turns up no previous reference to that number being tied to any sort of repair bill.
* It's completely unsourced, dropped in without a link to where this piece of information comes in from.
* The use of two key words: "need" and "structural".
Now, I'll admit Joe Louis Arena needs work. But structural work? As someone who's followed the ongoing renovation situation at Wrigley Field for the past 15 years (nothing like bringing a hard-hat to the ballpark!), adding the word "structural" is a bit of a red flag. I have yet to read anything implying that there's a problem with the physical plant of Joe Louis Arena. That would be a huge game changer: as if to imply that the building is potentially unsafe. No one's dodging concrete at the good ol' hockey game.
I don't believe for a second that Joe Louis Arena needs $10 million in structural repairs. Something I've learned from reading and following media critiques is this: if there's one source identified in an article with a lot of unnamed sources, you'll win more than you lose betting that the identified source is also at least some of the unidentified sources. Add to this the fact that McCosky is in his first season covering the Wings after 18 seasons covering the Pistons (two polar-opposite beats to cover), and I can picture pretty easily that he's being offered a scoop on an Olympia Entertainment silver platter (probably available at Little Foxes) that he ate up. No one likes Joe Louis Arena, but there's no inherent or immediate physical problem with it.
Want more proof? Here's the most inexplicable sentence in the whole story:
Another option for the Red Wings could be Ford Field, home of the Lions, but sources say the Ilitches haven't yet pursued that possibility.
Well they haven't pursued that possibilty for a couple minor reasons:
1. There's another tenant in that stadium who would use the facility for six or seven days during the hockey season, requiring the ice surface to be removed and rebuilt each time.
2. Building an NHL-quality ice surface isn't nearly as easy as, say, constructing and deconstructing a basketball court.
I'd bet grandma's china that McCosky asked his source if they had considered Ford Field, as opposed to the source volunteering that information, because no one who has the slightest idea of what it takes to build an ice surface would consider that option. It's a newbie question, the kind of thing someone who is ill-informed about what it takes to do that would ask.
So what to take away from this?
This story was a classic "negotiating through the media" piece. Ilitch Holdings wants the city to fork over the cash to provide an upgrade to Joe Louis Arena. By dropping the "$10 million in structural repairs" number in there, it'll start floating around enough that people will assume that statistic is a fact, as opposed to just a number in the ether (or, for any Orwell fans reading, that we've always been at war with Eastasia). Dave Bing, the new mayor of Detroit, seems to have enough financial sense not to kowtow to them, especially in a city that's hemorrhaging money.
Could the Red Wings move to The Palace, either temporarily or permanently? Doubtful, but not impossible. Keep in mind that Olympia would lose suite, concession, and parking revenue for those years. In an NHL with revenues tightening, I can't see a team doing that unless they had no other choice.
There, however, is one scenario that McCosky hints at:
Palace Sports and Entertainment executives long have had plans to build a new arena before 2020. ... Palace sources told The News the idea of forming a partnership between the Pistons and Wings ownership groups to build and share one sports complex has been discussed.
So here's your money-back-guaranteed prediction:
The Pistons will be sold. The new owner and Olympia will combine (a la the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks) and pitch a new sports facility to be built downtown on the land currently owned by Olympia, to start building as soon as humanly possible. When the building is finished, both teams will play there under joint ownership, a la Bill Wirtz and Jerry Reinsdorf with the United Center in Chicago.
Enter your guesses below.