Paul Swaney, a fellow Bleacher Report writer, set off on a mission to compile the football stadium experiences of writers in each NFL city. Below is my assignment reviewing the Motor City's home.
The Detroit Lions embody mediocrity.
Poor upper management hirings, incompetent coaching, and a lack of player development have contributed to just one playoff win since 1963, the year owner William Clay Ford purchased the team.
The losing has bred a generation of youth who adopt favorite squads outside of Detroit. A disconnect between fans and franchise remains an effect of negative consistency, but many believe the gap has closed a bit since Mr. Ford swapped the over-sized, impersonal Silverdome, thirty miles outside the city, for a prime location downtown.
Erected next to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, is a modern structure composed mainly of brick, steel, and glass that occupies a full city block. Wonderfully picturesque, the stadium appeals to both classic and avant-garde tastes. The Brush Street entrance features a charming seven-story glass atrium, which allows natural light to seep in during a game.
Two shelled-out J.L. Hudson warehouse buildings comprise the south wall of the stadium, contributing to the old-time feel. Eighty years old, they contain 132 luxury suites distributed among three levels that offer views of the playing surface. Other frills at Ford Field include 8,600 club seats, a club lounge, conference and convention areas, and two 27 x 98 foot high definition video scoreboards in each end zone.
After 40 years, Mr. Ford finally presented Lion fans a product far from mediocre.
FANFARE Score: 26
Food & Beverage: 5
The range of food and drink is expansive, as is the number of stands waiting to serve. A stroll down the ground concourse will reveal 56 restaurants and huts, ready to load you up on pizza, roasted nuts, or gummy worms.
Local-themed Poletown Sausage, a tribute to Detroit’s sizable Polish population, brings an international flavor into the mix, while the Taverna stand, Greece’s in-stadium representation, offers lamb and chicken gyros. Perhaps the most exotic chow, their $7 gyros can be complemented with a thick tzatziki sauce, a delicacy likely found in no other NFL venue.
Stepping back into the mainstream, a wallet-friendly Big Boy restaurant serves hundreds every Sunday. A $5 kids meal (PB&J, apple slices, baby carrots, and juice box), $4 milkshakes, $2.50 hot cocoa are some of Detroit’s favorite game day treats.
For a few extra shekels, walk on down to Charlie Sanders Hall of Fame BBQ. Here you can satisfy your hunger with a BBQ pulled pork or chicken sandwich for $10.50. Paradise Deli, a short promenade from the main entrance, offers toast turkey BLT sandwiches for $12, as well as a BLT salad and corned beef sandwiches.
Vendors reside in every section at all times. Hot dog slingers come by a little less frequent than beer and pop dealers, but you are never more than 10 minutes away from your next purchase. If you would like to avoid relying on others all together, Detroit sells an “All You Can Eat” ticket. For $73, you can feast on as many hot dogs, bratwursts, nachos, chips, and buckets of popcorn as you desire.
Ford Field has the potential to be a voracious twelfth man. In fact, decibel levels here can creep up as loud as any other domed structure in sports. Unfortunately, the organization has given fans little reason to get excited other than the existence of this top of the line venue. Straddling apathy and outright disgust, the optimism of most attendees sours early on.
Of course, the longer the Lions keep the score close, the better vibe remains. After each home score, Theo “Gridiron” Spight, the man in the double-zero Lions jersey and hard hat, belts out the team’s fight song, Gridiron Heroes. Though cheesy in nature and execution, it succeeds at rallying Detroit supporters.
One more glaring positive, regardless of seat location, is the scoreboard coverage in each end zone. Always in view, fans can watch replays of snaps that helped and hurt their team on screens close to a hundred feet wide.
The Adams Street concourse is another obvious success of Ford Field’s organization. Just inside the main entrance, fans have access to dozens of restaurants and gift shops within a three minute walk. Everything is clean and information desks are strategically stationed to assist. Despite these obvious attractions, a visitor can sometimes forget he is in the company of NFL football upon returning to his seat.
Sunday safety has never been in question around Ford Field. As the parking lots swell with automobiles, tables, and coolers, satellite dishes and footballs dot the sky.
Within a 10-minute walk of the stadium is Greektown, old-world home to a dozen Greek establishments, as well as a few other international food and beverage stops. GQ Magazine recently ranked Niki’s, located on Beaubien Street in Greektown, one of America’s top-25 best pizzas joints. Load your square with lamb or feta cheese. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, the menu extends plenty of other exotic options. Other renowned Greek locations include Pegasus Taverna, Plaka Cafe, and New Parthenon.
Old Shillelagh, Detroit’s most famous Irish pub, serves hundreds on game days. The $7 Shepherd’s Pie is a popular choice among bar goers, who can also load up on $7.50 Bud Light pitchers after 2 PM. This spot is sure to be rocking as fans stream out of the gates and onto Monroe Street.
Beaten down like Chicago Cub supporters over the years, few fan bases in America can relate to the neurosis associated with Lion fanship. Owning the worst NFL record this decade (42-117), futile season after futile season has eroded the spirit of Detroit’s football community. And nowhere is it more evident than in game attendance. Despite Ford Field’s status as an elite venue, the stadium only fills two or three times a year.
Always infused with a large collection of visiting fans, it is a quiet haven for the self-loathing and masochistic. Between Trans-Siberian Orchestra music clips and the occasional third down burst of support, opposing team devotees often drown out sporadic cheers for the home team. Fans of NFC North rivals make their annual Detroit trek to witness their warriors club the talent-deficient Lions. Often times, one-third of the attendees don enemy gear.
Three major highways, I-75, I-94, and I-96, intercept the downtown area, allowing easy access from any direction. And parking near the field is equally uncomplicated. Dozens of cement squares and parking structures lie in wait at affordable prices. Season parking passes start at $99, but if you’re only visiting for a game or two, you can pay as little as $10 to park within 10 minutes of the field. Buses also frequently transport bodies from restaurants and bars to the main gate, free of charge.
Return On Investment: 3
The Lions were one of three NFL teams to reduce their average ticket price from 2008. Ranking 11th lowest at $65.72, grabbing a ticket in Detroit is a bargain compared to the industry standard ($75). Beer prices rank second highest overall ($8.50), but cheaper fare and food eases the strain. At $10, the Lions’ average parking rate is the lowest in the league. If the on-field product ever produces another winning season, expect these skyrocket. Enjoy the value while you can, Lion fans.
Extra Points: 4
Ford Field boasts an impressive resume after just seven years of existence. It hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006 and the NCAA Final Four in 2009. Along with yearly college football bowl games, it also welcomes the Michigan High School Athletic Association football finals each Thanksgiving weekend. This year, the NCAA Frozen Four will roll into town and high-profile events, such as the Big Ten tournament, are almost guaranteed to visit regularly in coming years.