NBA Standoff Lets Palace President Dennis Mannion Settle In

November 7, 2011

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By Tom Walsh, Detroit Free Press

Dennis Mannion is itching to get basketball fans back in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but he concedes that the NBA’s prolonged standoff with its players union has given him time to settle into his new job and set changes in motion.

Mannion, 52, recently Los Angeles Dodgers president and a former executive in all four major pro sports leagues, was hired by new Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores in September as president of the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment (PS&E).

He’s wasting no time bringing new ideas and some fresh faces into the Palace, as I learned over lunch recently in the eerily empty stadium.

Hopefully soon — assuming an entire season isn’t lost to the NBA labor dispute — Pistons fans will get a look at new twists that include a cheerleading squad, a break-dancing guy, new mascot outfits and interactive LED message boards.

“Everybody’s excited,” Mannion said of the PS&E staff that runs the Palace, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival. With new ownership, there’s “a need to rebound from a bad (Pistons) season, and a bad economy. Everybody’s on board; they see the opportunity,” he said.

Previous PS&E President Alan Ostfield was dismissed when Gores bought the team, and Pistons telecast producer Pete Skorich and sideline TV reporter Eli Zaret were out when Mannion opted to put Fox Sports in charge of the bulk of TV production for games.

Otherwise, most of the 229 full-time PS&E employees are holdovers, but many have been moved around the building. “One of the first things I heard was that we needed to bring top executives out of the ivory tower up on the sixth floor, so I blew that up,” Mannion said.

He also noticed that there were too many people with the word “marketing” in their titles, so he’s been redefining roles and clustering related functional groups together. Marketing, video production and public relations are all on the second floor now.

From the outside, Mannion recently hired Harlan Hendrickson as vice president of lifestyle marketing. Hendrickson was a marketing VP for the Dodgers and was previously director of game entertainment at Pepsi Center in Denver for the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche — and where Mannion also worked before joining the Dodgers.

Mannion is also tapping the expertise of consultants in three key areas:

• Wasserman Media, a sports marketing group, will help explore how sponsorship ties with corporate America can inject new life into various areas of the physical space — from parking lots to pavilions and concourses. That could conceivably involve a sale of naming rights to the Palace, but Mannion said that’s not a priority and is only one of many ways to leverage the entertainment spaces of PS&E venues.

• Bernie Mullin, former CEO of two Atlanta sports teams, is founder of the Aspire Group, focused on brand building and boosting revenue. He also taught sports marketing and management at the University of Massachusetts, where one of his students was — you guessed it — Dennis Mannion.

• UCLA film school dean Teri Schwartz has dispatched a production team to help Mannion’s group work up a series of two-minute marketing videos for use in both traditional and social media, aiming to build enthusiasm and loyalty among target groups of fans and customers.

Look for lots of outreach from the Palace, whenever the Pistons return to action.


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