(This post originally appeared on Forbes.com 11/22/12)
Today all Americans will take a moment to pause, gather together, and collectively give thanks. No matter how rough the road ahead may seem, there is always something to be thankful for.
What are you thankful for?
As a sports fan and Michigander, today I am especially thankful for NFL in Detroit.
The last several years have been rocky in Detroit, but I do not have to tell you that. We are a blue collar town that was almost left for dead, but Detroit did not quit and neither have the Detroit Lions.
From a dreadful 0-16 season in 2008 to a whirlwind playoff appearance in 2011, the Lions remain resilient and the same can be said for Detroit.
Despite the changes and challenges in the Michigan economy Detroit has continued to soldier on – so have the Lions.
73 years of Tradition
This afternoon, the Detroit Lions, will host its 73rd Thanksgiving Day game. The tradition of the Lions playing on Thanksgiving began in 1934when then owner, George Richards, moved the team from Portsmouth, OH to the Motor City.
That same year the Lions current majority owner, William Clay Ford Sr., went to his very first Lions football game. Decades later, Ford Sr. purchased the team for $4 million. Today Forbes estimates its value at $855 million.
Over the last 49 years, Ford Sr. has been at the helm of the Lions and the Thanksgiving Day tradition has remained safely intact. However, there was a period when the beloved game was in jeopardy.
“William Clay Ford Jr. stood up in an owners meeting and made a passionate plea to keep it in Detroit. It was soundly defeated, and it never came up for a vote. Since that day, there has been very little doubt that the tradition would continue here in Detroit.”
Lewand further explained that adding a third game in primetime has allowed the league to preserve the traditions established by Detroit and Dallas, as well as give other NFL cities a chance to host a game on Thanksgiving.
Significance of the Thanksgiving Day Game
“I think there is significance on a few different levels. First, for the historical tradition, and the fact that it was the first national game on Thanksgiving that was broadcast on radio,” said Lewand. “The second is that it has created a celebration of American football. It has made a national holiday into one that combines an opportunity to give thanks with an opportunity to gather with family and watch football.”
Yes, millions of Americans will be at home watching the Lions go forward down the field.
Over the last several years, the television viewing audience of the first game has steadily increased (2009: 21.9 million; 2010: 27.75 million; 2011: 30.17 million). In light of this national attention, the Lions know that they must perform at a very high level to uphold the tradition on the field as strongly as it is off the field.
“The first thing that we want people to see is good football from us and a winning performance,” said Lewand. “As great as the tradition is, and as great as the energy is in the building, that is quickly replaced and quickly forgotten if we are not playing good football. Putting a great product on the field is the foremost consideration.”
Ford Field on Thanksgiving
On Thanksgiving Day Ford Field will host roughly 65,000 fans. Many of whom will either watch the annual parade that travels down Woodward Avenue just blocks from the stadium, or beat the rush and bring their tailgate inside.
The organization does not disclose its financial information, but Lewand shared that historically the Thanksgiving games are one of the most well attended match-ups of the season.
“Not just from a sellout perspective, but from a ticket utilization and lack of no shows,” said Lewand. “People tend to come in the building earlier and stay a little bit later, especially if it is a competitive game and usually it is on Thanksgiving. That ends up meaning more activity at the concession stands and more activity in our merchandise areas.”
Once inside the stadium, fans will receive Movember (men’s health awareness) inspired rally towels from the presenting sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield. And this year’s United Way Halftime Show features Michigan’s own Kid Rock who will perform Detroit, Michigan off of his new album Rebel Soul.
“Our hope is that it will be extra special in terms of celebrating Detroit and celebrating the resurgence and the rebirth and what is special about Detroit,” said Elizabeth Parkinson, Senior Vice of Marketing and Partnerships to Forbes.com. “Kid Rock has committed to the city. For us, he epitomizes the grit, heritage, and the commitment that people have made to the city.”
Thanksgiving is a day for honoring and celebrating our family, friends, and community. These connections keep us grounded and remind us who we truly are.
So today when you are rooting for the Lions, you are cheering for the pride that is inside of State of Michigan and Detroit.
For that I am truly grateful.