During my last trip to Detroit in early December there was one major sports priority, and that was seeing brand new Little Caesars Arena (LCA) in "The District Detroit." Detroit Sports Media Executive Director George Eichorn, Candice Ebling, and I covered the Detroit Red Wings game that night as the Winnipeg Jets were in town.
What made this trip neat was when Kujawa took us down to the Red Wings practice rink (pictured below). The rink is on a different floor and when I saw this, the only question which came to mind is how can anybody not come across impressed? Not only do the Red Wings use this for practice but it's used for youth hockey. If you tried to dig this deep underground for a venue in back home in Florida, you'd get a friendly encounter with a shark or worse.
All of us were able to walk around before the game and took some neat pictures. Even Eichorn, who had covered a couple of games before our visit, got to see some new things.
Eichorn and I jokingly sparred. Even though Don King Productions wasn't paying us money for a main event or an undercard, it was neat taking this type of photo.
The arena is flanked with restaurants of all types as well as the souvenir stores. But, what floored me the most were the manholes of all the names which have been a part of Detroit sports history. One of the manholes is dedicated to the late Red Wing and Detroit Tiger Owner Mike Ilitch. LCA was one of Mr. I's last dreams and visions for this city, and has been a true catalyst as to why Detroit has made an incredible comeback. After he took over the Wings, Detroit won four Stanley Cups and reached the playoffs 25-consecutive seasons under his watchful eye.
The concourse fully embraces legends like Gordie Howe, Joe Louis, and the great Pistons teams that have represented Detroit. LCA was like walking into an actual Sports Hall Of Fame. Being around the Red Wings my entire life, first as a fan then as a member of the media, it was great to see Olympia Stadium's letters on display in this new gem. While I enjoyed Joe Louis Arena, to me, Olympia will always rank amongst the best stadiums I've ever witnessed a sporting event in.
One of the newest things that gives this building an older feel is the new organ. It was pretty neat to hear a traditional organist's work echo and bounce around the arena.
What was different about this Red Wings home game was not hearing a tape recording of late PA Announcer Budd Lynch talking at the end of the period. But I understand that it was in with the new, and out with the old indicating a new building and a new era of Red Wings Hockey. At least the Red Wings had Karen Newman singing the National Anthem.
Over the years, I've traveled to some of the newer arenas around the USA. Some of the impressive ones include: Staples Center (Los Angeles, CA), America West Arena (Phoenix, AZ), United Center (Chicago, ILL), Bradley Center (Milwaukee, WI) which will be replaced next season, Target Center (Minneapolis, MN), Nationwide Arena (Columbus, Ohio), AT&T Center (San Antonio, TX) Amalie Arena (Tampa, FL), American Airlines Arena (Miami, FL) and as aforementioned the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL. Some of these venues had practice facilities right next to or connected to the stadium. I was impressed with what I saw in Phoenix and Columbus. Each are different and special in their own way whether they're part of a downtown revitalization or near water.
But the one thing that stands out about Little Caesars Arena is it's located within a half a mile from Ford Field and Comerica Park. It's unheard of to have all four major sports teams play in that close of a proximity. In fact, Detroit is the only sports city in America where all four major sports teams are located in the city. If Major League Soccer passes on Detroit as a future expansion area, playing at Ford Field, not only will it miss on three billionaire owners and an excellent fan base, they'll lose a large TV Market, and a chance to be part of a downtown area making a huge comeback.
You won't find a more sound ownership group than Tom Gores, The Ford Family and Dan Gilbert. But let's face it, for $862.9 million dollars to construct, you're going to build an arena for the ages. To use the word potential for not only the arena's finished product and surrounding areas describes what Detroit has to bring me back wanting more when I return home. I guarantee that by the time LCA gets outdated many decades later, I will be long deceased and never see its replacement.
There are some cities which will tear down buildings inside of 30-years-old. It will be unfortunate to see the Palace of Auburn Hills give way to the wrecking ball. I'm still puzzled as to why a State Of The Art Building such as this one can't be utilized for some purposes especially since it's paid off.
There are other metropolitan areas which have multiple arenas in use. Los Angeles has Staples Center, and The Lakers former home, The Forum, New York has Madison Square Garden and The Barclays Center. In Minnesota, the Wild play in St. Paul while the Timberwolves play in downtown Minneapolis. You get the idea.
My home area is the best example.
In Downtown Miami, The NBA's Heat play at The American Airlines Arena meanwhile in the suburbs, the Florida Panthers, play in the BB&T Center in Sunrise, and therefore, there are enough events to hold in each building. I love the BB&T Center! This place is more centrally located to Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties and the Miami Marlins should have built their new stadium in Sunrise, FL. Nonetheless, in an age where every city is trying to out do each other with their State Of The Art Creations, objectively speaking, it will be tough to top LCA, especially with the underground practice facility. For youngsters to be able to practice, play hockey games, tournaments on a rink for which its own NHL team uses creates its own "Ice Of Dreams."
As of this post, the prospects don't look good for either the Red Wings or Pistons making the playoffs. From what I've been told, there have been a fair amount of empty seats at their games. Whether that's attributed to each teams' struggles or the newness of the arena where fans want to check out the numerous things to do, restaurants, etc is subject to ones opinion. I have a feeling that the louder crowds will come in time when the honeymoon phase of the arena wears off and these teams are winning.
By the way, the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-1 in my only and initial trip to the arena.
Yes, there was a game played and what was even more special was seeing many old friends again that I haven't seen in a long time since I don't get home as often as I like. Health permitting, I expect that to change.
I look forward to covering the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the not so distant future. I do spend money on the NHL Center Ice Package, and these guys have been involved in a lot of one goal games, but are fun to watch.
It will be interesting to see how this team grows together with a nucleus of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and then the eventual retired jersey of Henrik Zetterberg when it gets eventually raised into the rafters.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of Detroit Sports Media.