Behind the Scenes With Pistons Owner Tom Gore

On and off the floor with Tom Gores' core management team.


Tom Gores with Platinum Equity team

Photographs courtesy Platinum Equity

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Of the 130 companies that are owned and operated by Platinum Equity in areas ranging from technology and distribution to manufacturing and logistics, Palace Sports and Entertainment is something of an anomaly. It’s an entertainment business that includes a sports franchise and an arena, but also comprises a robust schedule of concerts and events at two other venues, DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston and Meadow Brook Music Festival in Rochester Hills.

When Platinum owner Tom Gores and his core team were evaluating the Pistons, The Palace, and Palace Sports and Entertainment as a potential investment, they went through exactly the same process they utilize for any company on their radar.

“We’re a private equity firm and, in that context, we’re a buyout shop,” says Mark Barnhill, a Platinum Equity partner. “But we’re very different from others … in that we have a very operations-intensive process, where it’s really all about identifying companies that may be underperforming from an operational standpoint.

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“We have what seems like a very eclectic mix of businesses in fairly divergent sectors, but at their heart they all have one thing in common: they are businesses that have a tremendous amount of potential and value locked inside them. And that value is locked because there’s an operational underperformance component. So our goal is to come in and fix — and, therefore, unlock — that value.”

That’s where Palace Sports President and CEO Dennis Mannion plays a prominent role. Hired in September 2011, soon after Gores bought the Pistons, Mannion oversees all aspects of business operations for the team and the arena, including sales, marketing, finance, and administration. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Mannion holds the unique distinction of having business and marketing experience in all four major sports.

A big part of his job — Manninon most recently was president and CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers — is supervising the three-year renovation of The Palace at a total cost in the vicinity of $50 million, “if we manage it right,” Mannion says. The upgrades range from a new logo, color scheme, and less signage — “it was almost like Toys R Us,” Mannion cracks, “colors all over the place.” Other capital improvements — some completed last November — include the refurbishment of all of the office space, the main lobby and causeways, and seven new clubs for fans at every ticket level.

“The goal was to bring in a new sense of energy and urgency about bringing this business into the 21st century,” Barnhill says. “It needed a refresh on all levels.”

Which is where the other part of Mannion’s job comes in.

“The big change in the last 20, even 30 years, in sports is there’s been this descending curve on brand-building sponsorships, like the big Coke signs.” Mannion says. “They’ve been on the slide. These guys want to be active and move bottles of Coke; they don’t want to just put a sign up.”

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