Palace Sports & Entertainment

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Palace Sports & Entertainment

2 Championship Drive
Auburn Hills, Michigan 48326
Telephone: (248) 377-0100
Fax: (248) 377-3260
Web site:



After their run of two consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990, the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association began a decline that lasted into the early years of the twenty-first century. The team suffered through numerous losing seasons, and attendance fell drastically. To reverse at least the latter trend, Palace Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Pistons, enlisted Minneapolis-based agency Olson & Company to create an advertising campaign that would stir up fan interest throughout the region. The campaign, titled "Goin' to Work. Every Night," began with the 2001–02 season and was designed to identify the team with the hard-working culture of Detroit.

The campaign sprang from an earlier one titled "Every Night," which emphasized the team's commitment to playing hard. But "Goin' to Work. Every Night" broadened the focus to include the fans. It consisted of television, radio, direct mail, print, outdoor signage, and an online interactive component. This was accomplished on an initial budget of less than $500,000. The players themselves and even workers at the Palace of Auburn Hills (where the Pistons played their home games) reinforced the ad campaign. In its early stages two local entertainers were hired to appear in humorous television spots that emphasized the role of the fan in helping the Pistons turn things around. The spots were popular enough that the entertainers themselves gained minor celebrity status in the Pistons' television-viewing area as the "Pistons Lady" and the "O Guy." As the campaign progressed through the years, the fans' involvement continued to be reinforced.

Because of the effectiveness of the "Goin' to Work. Every Night" campaign in surpassing its three major goals for the 2001–02 basketball season—increase the rate of season ticket renewals, increase attendance, and double the number of sellouts—it was recognized with a 2003 Gold EFFIE Award. The campaign became the pivotal theme of all Pistons activities. Indeed, after Detroit captured its third NBA championship by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, one of the team's stars, Richard Hamilton, proclaimed to the fans, "We've been goin' to work. Every night." This certainly resonated with the local audience.


The Detroit Pistons joined the National Basketball Association (NBA) during the 1957–58 season and after years of struggle became the league's premier team, winning consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990. Those championship teams were branded the "Bad Boys" because of the no-nonsense, hardscrabble style of play that contrasted with the rival Los Angeles Lakers' "showtime" style. In the years following the championships, however, the Pistons fell in the standings, which accelerated the erosion of its fan base. The faltering economy of the early years of the twenty-first century also affected season-ticket sales. Because of corporate cutbacks, season-ticket sales for the 2000–01 season fell to about 7,000. These figures were poor enough to rank Detroit 22nd in attendance in the NBA.

Two other problems that team officials faced were the lack of team identity and the fact that team outreach to the community had declined. The Pistons no longer projected the gritty image that had defined them in their championship years and that the city of Detroit had taken to heart. Nor were players as accessible in promoting the team or community affairs. Both of these factors had an impact on the decline in fan support and the apathy of many of those who did show up.

The Pistons made the first step in correcting the situation in 2000, when the team named Joe Dumars as director of player personnel (later promoted to team president). Dumars had been a star of Detroit's 1989 and 1990 championship teams and had been known for bringing a solid work ethic to the game. In his administrative capacity he began drafting and trading for players who shared his work philosophy. Dumars was also astute in choosing coaches for the Pistons. The next step was to get the word out to the community that the Detroit Pistons were serious about turning the team around and reconnecting with their fans.


The target market for the "Goin' to Work. Every Night" campaign was divided into two segments. The primary segment consisted of the season-ticket holders. During the 2000–01 season the number of season tickets sold was approximately one-third of the capacity of the Palace of Auburn Hills. The second segment consisted of those fans who attended games on a more casual basis. In the "Brief of Effectiveness" it submitted for the 2003 EFFIE Awards, Olson & Company stated that the focus within these two groups was males aged 18 to 54 but that "we were still cognizant of others and avoided alienating other groups."


Over the years the competition for sports dollars had gotten stiff, especially in a working-class city like Detroit. The economic downturn of the early years of the twenty-first century exacerbated the problem, and, of course, the team's poor on-court performance also placed the Pistons at a disadvantage. The Pistons' main competition came from the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League—the professional basketball and hockey seasons were practically concurrent. The Red Wings were riding a wave of success in which they had won the Stanley Cup (awarded to the league champion) in 1997, 1998, and 2002, and they had been highly competitive during the years between championships. The basketball season also overlapped with the baseball and football seasons, so the Pistons also competed for viewers with the baseball team the Detroit Tigers and football team the Detroit Lions. Further competition for fans came from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. With myriad nonsports entertainment choices—ranging from hundreds of television channels to movies, theater, concerts, and clubs—the Pistons and Olson & Company clearly had a tough job ahead.


Despite a small budget, Olson & Company devised an inventive campaign. In the "Brief of Effectiveness" it submitted for the EFFIE Awards the agency stated, "We couldn't promise what we couldn't deliver, wins or All-Stars, so we established an idea that made fans a part of the NBA grind." The brief also described the "social contract with the players and fans. The players promised to go to work if the fans went to work [going to the games and cheering]." This last sentence echoed the sentiments of Joe Dumars, who had major input into the campaign's message. It also showed that the hard-work philosophy went beyond the players on the court to encompass the entire organization, right down to the arena staff—ushers even wore work shirts.

In a 2004 Brandweek article by Hilary Cassidy, Pistons CEO Tom Wilson pointed out, "In Detroit, we're so blue-collar, even white-collar people from here think they're blue-collar." Cassidy quoted John Olson, CEO of Olson & Company, as explaining, "No matter where you are on the [income] spectrum, you consider yourself a member of this hardworking, gritty town … We can take that idea and leverage it for the team." Part of that leverage, Cassidy noted, was that "the team stepped up promotions with more than 30 gift nights … Previous high-tech laser shows were scrapped for player intros in the form of low-key video showing the guys at home leaving for the Palace."

Both traditional and new advertising media were employed to get the word out. In the campaign's first season, which won an EFFIE Award, two new television stars were born: local blues singer Thornetta Davis as the grouchy "Pistons Lady" who would not stand for any slacking off, and actor and college instructor Greg Trzaskoma as a zealous fan dubbed the "O Man" because of the o in the word "Pistons" painted on his stomach. One of the signs of the success of the spots was that it was viewers who gave these characters their names. Julie Hinds of the Detroit Free Press wrote, "Although their combined point average for the season is zero, Davis and Trzaskoma scored big in other ways. Their efforts have spread the word on the team's new work ethic. Fans love them."

Because of budgetary constraints Olson & Company had to be innovative when it came to promoting the campaign. In addition to using conventional advertising, the agency reinforced the hard-working approach and fan involvement in four unique ways. The first involved the actual season tickets, which were designed to look like time cards. Ticket holders punched in, so to speak, every time they attended a game. The second tactic involved the season-ticket renewal program, one of the ad campaign's key goals. The renewal brochure itself was in the form of a Detroit Department of Labor annual report that, according to the agency's EFFIE "Brief of Effectiveness," "reviewed fans' 'work statistics' in a solemn yet humorous manner." The other two tactics involved six metal "help wanted" signs positioned in the arena and a dedicated website for an online contest in which fans voted for Detroit's hardest-working fan.


The Pistons' 2004 NBA championship marked the second championship in two years for Detroit and Michigan basketball fans. The Pistons brought the Larry O'Brien Trophy—emblematic of the NBA championship—to the Palace of Auburn Hills, and in 2003 their counterparts in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Detroit Shock, were the WNBA champions. The Shock's motto was "Bring It." To show the teams' appreciation of their fans throughout the state, both trophies were on display at various locations in Michigan from early July to mid-September 2004. While the 2003–04 Pistons were coached by the legendarily peripatetic Larry Brown, the Shock's championship team was coached by local favorite and former Pistons "Bad Boy" Bill Laimbeer.

In her article Hinds also quoted Craig Turnbull, vice president for brand management for Palace Sports & Entertainment, who pointed out that the campaign was not designed to be quickly replaced by another. "This isn't a one-hit, one-year campaign," he said. "It's our promise as an organization." The Pistons carried through on that promise. They not only rolled the campaign over each year but also found new ways to include the fans. In August 2003 the team announced a casting call to hire 75 fans to serve as extras for television spots for the 2003–04 version of the campaign.


The "Goin' to Work. Every Night" campaign was a success by any measure. It reinforced throughout the entire Pistons organization the hard-work ethic that culminated in another championship in 2004. Also, from the very beginning it connected on a deep level with the fans. The 2003 EFFIE Award was recognition for the campaign's success, but statistics revealed the full story; the team exceeded all three of the goals set for the ad campaign during the 2001–02 season. One of the goals was to increase attendance by 15 percent to an average of approximately 16,000 per game. The actual average Pistons attendance for the 2001–02 season was 18,556; this amounted to a 32 percent increase over the previous season, when attendance was 14,070 per game. Another challenge was to increase the renewal rate for season-ticket holders; it had been 60 percent during the 2000–01 season, and the objective was to reach 80 percent for 2001–02. That season the renewal rate for season-ticket holders exceeded expectations by jumping to 90 percent. The final goal was to double the number of sellouts from the 2000–01 season, going from three to six. Instead the Pistons recorded 15 sellouts for the 2001–02 season. Building on the 2004 championship and 2005 NBA Eastern Conference Championship, by January 2006 the Pistons had recorded more than 100 consecutive sellouts.

The success of the Pistons on the court attracted sponsors and increased attendance and merchandise sales, but Pistons CEO Tom Wilson emphasized the value of marketing. In the Brandweek article Hilary Cassidy quoted Wilson's summation of the campaign: "We systematically created a belief in our fans in our approach to the game and they got caught up in it…. They became the hardest-working fans in sports, showing up in hard hats, carrying signs. It all went together. You can win more games when you have 20,000 people going crazy than when you have 14,000 people sitting there staring."


Cassidy, Hilary. "Lunch Pail Set: Nothing but Net." Brandweek, October 11, 2004.

"Detroit Pistons and Detroit Shock Send Championship Trophies on Tour of Michigan." PR Newswire, July 1, 2004.

"Detroit Pistons, Olson & Company Win Gold at EFFIE Awards." PR Newswire, June 6, 2003.

DuPree, David. "Dumars Has Pistons Hitting on All Cylinders." USA Today, April 26, 2002.

"Extra! Extra! The Detroit Pistons Are Looking for Extras." PR Newswire, August 20, 2003.

Hinds, Julie. "Pistons Lady and the O Guy." Detroit Free Press, April 19, 2002.

Walsh, Tom. "Success Story Goes to Work at the Palace." Detroit Free Press, October 28, 2003.

                                            Frank Caso