When I was growing up we lived in a small mid-Michigan town. Every kid in my neighborhood was a die-hard Detroit Pistons fan. Back then we didn’t have the internet, social media, or cable tv; but somehow we followed the team and knew everything about them.
We wore neon t-shirts with caricatures of the players. Nicknames like the Worm, the Microwave, and Buddha rolled right off of our tongues. And when the team won back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990 we celebrated by dancing to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”
Yes, those were the good old days.
I bet you have a similar sports memory. Don’t we all?
The challenge for 21st century professional sports executives is to create lasting nostalgic memories, like the ones I have, for a new generation of fans; and at the same time keeping the original audience coming back for more.
Dennis Mannion is one of those executives.
Since 1982, Mannion has worked in professional sports. He began his career with the Philadelphia Phillies were he was labeled as the marketing genius who was going to “put the fun back in baseball,” and make Phillies fans remember why they love baseball.
After spending 16 years with the Phillies and serving eight seasons as the club’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Mannion crisscrossed the sports landscape making stops in Denver (Vice President at Ascent Sports – NHL’s Colorado Avalanche; NBA’s Denver Nuggets), Baltimore (Senior Vice President of Business Ventures – NFL’s Baltimore Ravens), and Los Angeles (President/Chief Operating Officer – MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers).
Mannion also has the rare distinction of navigating all four major professional sports leagues, and he’s humble when it comes to acknowledging this accomplishment. He credits his wife for her ability to infuse their family into his career, and as a result several of his strongest marketing ideas came straight from observing their five children, whom he calls his “focus group.”
For example, when he couldn’t pry his sons away from playing baseball video games he realized that fans wanted to see up-to-the-minute stats when watching live games. Additionally, when he observed his daughters love of dance, he realized that fans would enjoy watching the same moves too – so he made sure that the team mascot could dance.
Mannion’s ability to transform sports franchises has brought him from Hollywood to the Midwest. In 2011, he was hired as the President & CEO of Palace Sports & Entertainment (PS&E) after Tom Gores purchased the organization.
PS&E is the parent company that owns the DTE Energy Music Theater, the Meadow Brook Music Festival, The Palace of Auburn Hills, and its most well-known asset is the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons haven’t won an NBA Championship since they outplayed Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers in 2004. They also haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Therefore, Mannion has probably accepted one of the toughest challenges of his career – reminding the gritty hard-working Pistons fans why they love Detroit Basketball.
Mannion admits that he initially wasn’t sold on the idea of using “Detroit Basketball” as the franchise’s brand. However, his staff and President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars, convinced him that Detroit Basketball is who they are. As a result, Mannion is strategically balancing the legacy of the old with new innovative ideas.
The Palace, built in 1988, has been outfitted with $9 million worth of renovations, which includes an upgraded front entrance, team locker-room, and state-of-the-art arena lighting. Also, the traditional “dogs catching frisbees” half-time shows have been replaced with full-blown productions featuring popular and classic music acts including, Travie McCoy, Gladys Knight, and Doug E. Fresh. And if you pay close attention you’ll see Pistons history sprinkled throughout the arena.
Tonight is the final home game of the season, and from this moment on the rebuilding process continues. Lawrence Frank, Pistons head coach, and Dumars will focus on improving the play on the court. Mannion noted that when it comes to balancing decisions that are good for the business versus decisions that are good for the sport, he learned many years ago that it is best to stay out of the General Manager’s way.
Instead, his front office team will have their sights set on re-signing their current season ticket holders, and recruiting free agent fans to invest and believe in the team as well. The club announced that it won’t increase the season ticket prices, and fans purchasing packages will join one of two newly created membership groups, “Pistons Black” and “Pistons Red.” These two fan communities will receive their own game-day uniform, an exclusive one-of-a-kind authentic on-court Pistons team jacket. Using advanced-microchip technology embedded in the sleeve, ticket holders can use the jacket at all games to receive discounts at The Palace.
It’s a little known fact that Mannion’s parents live in the Metro Detroit area, so if home is where your heart is Pistons fans can rest assured that Mannion will put his heart into reviving Detroit Basketball.
Good Night Sports Fans,