The first update fans will notice at Ford Field this season is the massive and ubiquitous video boards that take up 26,500 square feet of LED display space as part of a $100-million renovation.
But amid all the dazzling new updates and upgrades Detroit Lions fans can expect to see, there’s one major change that is significant precisely because fans won’t see it: the playoff-appearance banners.
“We took them down as part of the renovation,” team president Rod Wood said Wednesday while guiding a media tour of the stadium, “and I just think I’d rather celebrate the next division win and not put them back up.”
Banners that celebrate division titles and world championship remain, but the banners that listed only the Lions’ appearances in the “NFL playoffs” are gone.
So, it seems, the Lions have lowered some meaningless banners and raised the bar of expectations.
“I don’t know,” Wood said. “You can draw that conclusion. I certainly am setting my sights on winning divisions and championships, not just making the playoffs.”
Since their last championship in 1957, the Lions have gone 1-12 in the playoffs, with their last win coming in 1991.
The absent banners appear to have helped set the tone for Ford Field, which opened in 2002 and looks to the future to remain relevant and vibrant in the ongoing game of stadium one-upmanship in the NFL, where there is a constant churn on new stadiums being erected.
Even in Detroit, Lions fans need only look out of the north end of the stadium past Montcalm Street to glimpse the nearly completed gleaming Little Caesars Arena that will compete with Ford Field for entertainment dollars.
“Certainly we’re aware of what they’re doing,” Wood said. “I’m going to go tour it with (Olympia Entertainment president and CEO) Tom Wilson soon. We certainly compete on some level. But we also want to cooperate.
“It’s great for the city to have all four teams downtown and have great venues for them to play in. Our fans go to their games and vice-versa, so by comparison you want to look like you’re competitive. It’s important but it isn’t what drove the decision to do this.”
Ford Field renovations are expected to be completed Aug. 1. As Wood gave a large gathering of reporters an extensive, hour-long tour of the work that began in March and is still going at full bore, renovations seemed to touch every corner of the building across 209,000 square feet.
Some of the highlights included full updates to the 125 suites, more football-themed designs like yard markers on floors, pictures of players and Lions-colored decorations and designs. There will be a grab-and-go food concession, a fully updated Corner Bar that features a 90-foot bar with several video boards and a video wall that contains game information.
The north side of the stadium had been somewhat neglected and was viewed, Wood admitted, as a “second-class citizen,” which made it hard to sell more expensive seating. Food service was slow because food came from the kitchen on the stadium’s south side. A 4,000-square-foot kitchen has been installed and there are significant new additions like the Miller Lite Taproom and the Comerica Gridiron Club, which includes outdoor seating and a large fire pit for lounging during brisk autumn afternoons.
A sound system upgrade also is coming, although it was not ready for demonstration.
During the tour, the video boards stole the show. The new massive video screens over each end zone are 39 ½ feet tall and 152 ½ feet wide. Nearly 1,000 feet of ribbon displays encircle the stadium’s club level.
Wood reiterated that the Lions remain invested in trying to bring a Super Bowl back to Detroit, and possibly the NFL draft, although he pointed out no Midwest city has gotten a second Super Bowl recently in the same stadium.
But mostly, the updates revolved around making better use of space that had largely gone unused and now makes Ford Field vibrant and viable — at least for a while.
“We’ve caught up to even the newest stadiums now,” Wood said, “especially with the video and the sound system we’re going to have, the options for the different fan experiences.
“And I still think Ford Field has great bones and a foundation you can use for a long time. The fact that we were built into the (Hudson’s) warehouse, as you look back over here, kind of creates this almost timeless feel. I don’t know if the stadium will ever feel like it’s aging that much. … As long as we kind of keep the technology current — the Wi-Fi, the video, the sound and the fan experience — I think we’re going to stay current for a long time.”
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