For decades, the Detroit Lions have been synonymous with bad luck and worse management. But, with the Lions’ fortunes seemingly in the midst of a long-awaited turnaround, the team is turning into a hot ticket locally while gaining appeal nationally.
The Lions, who endured their 10th straight losing season last year but created some momentum by winning their final four games, are experiencing what team president Tom Lewand calls “significant” increases in season ticket sales for the second straight year. The surge comes as much from the Lions’ hot finish and a successful NFL Draft last month as it does from their decision to maintain ticket prices this year after cutting prices to 19,000 seats at 65,000-seat Ford Field following the 2009 season.
Season tickets at Ford Field range from $30 per game in the “Roar Zone” — a section at the back end of each end zone — to $90 for Lower Level sideline seats between the 30-yard-lines. The single game ticket prices, meanwhile, range from $42 to $110.
“We are significantly ahead of where we were last year and last year we experienced significant growth over 2009,” Lewand told The Detroit News. “The trend has continued and even accelerated in 2011 vs. 2010. We are up significantly in new ticket sales and we’re up also significantly in our overall season ticket base with renewals on existing season ticket holders.”
The Lions have remained a relatively popular ticket locally even in the midst of perhaps the worst stretch in NFL history as well as the worst economy in the country. The Lions had just one home game blacked out last year — down from four in 2009 — and saw their attendance increase by 13.9 percent, the highest in the NFC and the second-biggest in the league behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Lions’ TV ratings also increased by a robust 37 percent.
“The trend is going in the right direction for us,” Lewand said to the News. “But we don’t take anything for granted. Particularly in this market in these times.”
Lewand’s caution is understandable. The Lions, the only NFC team that has never made the Super Bowl, last reached the playoffs following the 1999 season — their drought is tied for the longest in the league with the Buffalo Bills — and are 48-128 over the last 11 seasons, a stretch “highlighted” by the NFL’s first 0-16 season in 2008. The previous decade was defined by early draft picks that went bust such as Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.
The Lions have gotten things right in the draft recently and this year’s first-round pick, 13th overall selection Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, was considered the best player in the draft by many “draftniks” and will team with last year’s second overall pick Ndamukong Suh to form a potentially dominant defensive line. And with a promising offense anchored by quarterback Matthew Stafford (the top overall pick in 2009) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (the second overall pick in 2007), the Lions might finally be ready to battle for a playoff spot this year and, perhaps not too far down the road, finally have a legitimate shot at ending that Super Bowl drought.
The Lions’ ineptitude has turned their annual Thanksgiving Day game into their lone national TV appearance of the season, but they will play in primetime this year for the first time since 2001 when they host the Chicago Bears Monday, October 10. And if the Lions’ rebuilding plan finally results in playoff contention, perhaps they’ll finally appear on Sunday Night Football as well. The Lions and Houston Texans are the only teams that haven’t played on Sunday night since NBC was awarded that package in 2006.