Last year, the Detroit Lions put up the lowest attendance numbers in the league. Only three NFL teams averaged less than 60,000 people per home game, and the Lions were the worst of them with an average attendance of 51,522—their lowest average since 2010. It was so bad that by the end of the season, attendance dropped to 45,211 in their Week 15 bout against the Arizona Cardinals—the lowest attendance for a single Lions home game since 2009.
On Monday, Lions team president Rod Wood provided a little important context to those numbers. For one, COVID restrictions had a significant impact on sales. Not only was Michigan one of the last states to lift restrictions from the pandemic, but a huge portion of Lions fans in Canada were never permitted to take the trip across the border.
“We have about 5,000 fans coming from Canada. None of them were able to come to games this year, so that certainly was a unique situation that we dealt with along with maybe Buffalo and a couple other teams,” Wood told a small group of reporters. “One of the things that was a challenge for us is we were not cleared until July to know that we were going to have fans, because we were still under the restrictions. So we didn’t really do any group sales, we didn’t do any single game sales until we knew for sure we were going to have fans.”
Another undeniable challenge for the Lions was the performance of the team. The Lions were coming off a horrible three-year stretch where they finished with a 14-33-1 record. Only the Jets, Jaguars, and Bengals finished with a worse record over that time period. Detroit’s new regime didn’t do any favors, either, with a 0-10-1 start to the 2021 season.
Wood knows that there’s truly only one thing that will put butts in the seats: wins. He’s hoping last year’s finish to the season—when the Lions won three of their final six games—will carry over into 2022.
“If you look at the teams that had the most attendance growth last year, it was teams that turned around their football team, teams that relocated to new markets, or teams that built a new stadium,” Wood said. “We’re not going to do the last two, so we got to focus on the first one.”
Wood also said the Lions were working on a few upgrades to the Ford Field experience but is not ready to reveal exactly what those specific plans are.
According to Wood, ticket sales have already shown a noticeable improvement. He said the Lions currently rank “seventh or eighth” in new season ticket sales, and their retention rate from last year is around the league average. Working in the team’s favor for 2022 is that the Lions will be featured on HBO’s training camp documentary series “Hard Knocks,” which Wood views as a marketing opportunity.
“I think Hard Knocks is part of it,” Wood said. “Hopefully some of the buzz from today will get people paying attention to us a little bit more.”
Last month, the Lions sent an email to season ticket holders that prices for their tickets will not increase in 2021. No decision on ticket prices has been made for single-game tickets yet, but those discussions will take place, as normal, after the 2022 schedule has been released.