When discussing the major sports teams in Detroit, the Pistons are often viewed at the bottom of the totem pole for fan engagement. They get the least amount of discussion on the airwaves and the discussion that they do get is often negative and only about how they should tank (cough..cough...97.1 The Ticket). And while this is mostly the team’s own doing with all the mistakes different management teams have made since the Goin’ to Work Crew, they are still the only team in Detroit to make the playoffs in their most recently played season (this is suddenly getting very depressing).
Rough time to be a Detroit fan— ESPN (@espn) April 23, 2019
• Pistons: Lost 14 straight playoff games (NBA record)
• Lions: last won playoff game in 1991 (2nd-longest active drought)
• Red Wings: missed playoffs last 3 years after making it previous 25 years
• Tigers: last won playoff series in 2013 pic.twitter.com/W8mz2yLSnd
The turnout for the Pistons two home playoff games against the Bucks shows that the people of Detroit do care and will show up for high-end basketball even if it is very likely the team is going to lose. Saturday’s game three against the Bucks was a soldout game, which have been very few and far between since the Pistons 259 consecutive games sold out streak ended more than a decade ago. The crowd was electric, the stands were full, and the chants of “refs you suck” could be heard loud and clear on the television broadcast.
I was at Monday’s game four against the Bucks, and while it was not a complete sellout, there were not a lot of empty seats in the arena and the crowd was just as electric. This is not something that you could say a lot during the regular season.
Whenever a highlight was posted about the Pistons on social media, most of the comments were about how empty the seats were. This was more true last season when the bright red seats stood out like a sore thumb when there was nobody sitting in them. Despite the now black seats changing the optics a bit, the attendance has still not been great.
The numbers back up the observations from most people about the empty crowd. The Pistons were 30th in the league for attendance percentage in 2018-19 with 78.5%. However, that is partially due to the size of Little Caesars Arena, as they ranked 24th in average attendance with 16,486. Either way, it’s clear the team has a lot to do to win back the fans’ trust and attention. I am not going to get into the reasons for the lack of attendance because there is not one single reason you can pinpoint.
More important than finger pointing, though, is a simple truth — this city cares about this team as long as they are given a reason to. The fans will get behind a huge underdog in the playoffs if they’re playing reasonable smart basketball. Detroit got waxed in historic fashion and fans still showed up in droves. There won’t be any worries about this team not selling out a playoff game and having a half-empty arena. Of course, the team could aid in that effort by maybe winning a playoff game and breaking the longest playoff losing streak ever. But I digress.
There is still work to be done to get the fans to buy in and come out in similar numbers during the regular season. They have proven in the past that they will come out when the team is consistently good. Look no further than the five-five year, 259-game sellout streak from 2004 to 2009.
The Pistons may still be at the bottom of most fans’ lists of favorite Detroit teams, but that’s only because this city is crazy about all four of its major sports. Plenty of fans came out and supported the Pistons when they needed it. Based on the regular season support, it seemed like the people of Detroit were just going to brush the Pistons playoff appearance under the rug because it was a likely sweep. They didn’t and hopefully the team can build off of it.