Detroit — Sports fans can definitely can get their fill Saturday at Little Caesars Arena, a one-stop winter sports buffet.
The venue has waited and wanted for this to happen, and it finally will: a Pistons game at noon against the Houston Rockets and the Red Wings taking on the New Jersey Devils at 8 p.m.
Both teams, playing regular-season games, on the same day, in one venue.
A sports paradise for fans, and an exciting venture for LCA.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge but it’s something that we’re excited about, and something we’ve been looking forward to doing since we opened the venue (in 2017),” said Tim Padgett, vice-president of venue operations for Ilitch Sports & Entertainment. “It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time and we’re in good shape for it.
“We’ve had a lot of meetings, literally for months. To see it all come together, it will be super satisfying for sure.”
The hoopla actually began Friday with the WJLB Big Holiday Show concert at LCA. That meant the conversion team was transforming the venue for basketball, with shootaround beginning as early as 9 a.m., then converting for hockey immediately when the Pistons end at approximately 2:30 p.m.
“There’s no rest for those guys,” said Padgett of the approximately 80-member team that transforms the arena from event to event. “They’ll put in a very long day (Saturday). They’ll be in the arena at night converting all night and be ready for the shootaround and they’ll get some time off during the day and be back for hockey.
“Then we’ll have the Pistons on Sunday (against Miami, 6 p.m.) and would have had the Wings on Monday (the game has been postponed) and back to basketball Tuesday with Oakland and Michigan State.
“That COVID game (Colorado’s COVID issues necessitated Monday’s game to be postponed), as much as we hate to see it happen, it gives our conversion team one night of rest they weren’t expecting.”
Having a basketball and hockey game on the same day gets a large segment of fans into downtown Detroit for essentially the whole day. It also frees up the calendar to get concerts or shows for open, available evenings.
“People will take in both games, which is awesome, and there will be a lot of people in the district going to restaurants, and going forward, it gives us an opportunity to put more events in the building,” Padgett said. “Normally you’d see a more of a Pistons game on Friday night, but we’re able to get our guests an opportunity for a concert and both (teams) on Saturday and a Pistons game on Sunday.”
Because it’s generally easier to convert from basketball to hockey, the decision was made to have the basketball game early in the day.
“It’s also much more beneficial for our broadcast partners at Bally’s because their set up for basketball is more elaborate than it is for hockey,” Padgett said. “They can get out there and have the set tested and ready to go and they can pull all that down quickly and put up their microphones and things they need for hockey.
“We looked at what makes the most sense for everybody, and basketball to hockey makes the most sense this time. We could do it the other way, and we’ll see certainly see how this goes, but for this time we’re trying basketball to hockey first and it should be good.”
Padgett called the conversion from basketball to hockey, but essentially any conversion from one event to another at LCA is a “choreography.” This one in particular will need to be timely.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces, just how much there is on the floor for a basketball game with the hoops and chairs and risers and the new bar set up,” Padgett said. “All that has to move out well, while we are moving in dasher boards, glass and cameras for television and microphones on the glass, and picking up the (basketball) floor.
“It’s a pretty significant choreography that needs to happen. Fortunately we’ve done a lot of transitions in this building and our conversion team is world class, so they’re used to doing it.
“Not just in a compressed timeframe, but we should be in a good shape.”
Padgett expects more of these doubleheaders in the future.
“A lot of it is working with the two leagues and trying to coordinate dates that work,” Padgett said. “It’s a great thing for the city, fun for us at the arena, and an exciting challenge to take on. And like I said, it gives us more opportunities to bring in more content for the fans of the city.
“There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on downtown (Saturday), a great day to wander around and enjoy the District and the rest of the city.”