NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed confidence this week that the league’s 32 teams would welcome fans back to full stadiums for the 2021 season, and Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said Wednesday the team is navigating through protocols with city and state officials to ensure they can get as many fans as possible safely back in Ford Field.
“It’s certainly my hope,” Wood said. “In fact, I had a call with the state between the end of the league meeting and this press conference today to keep the dialogue going. I had a call with the mayor’s office last week. Obviously we’re trying to do everything we can to help by getting people vaccinated. I think that’s a key step in this, with the theme of vaccinations at Ford Field.
“I think we’re doing between 5,000 and 6,000 vaccines per day there,” Wood said. “We’ll be doing everything we can to support PSAs and help other people get inspired to get the vaccine, understand how safe it is and how important it is to get back. I think if we continue on this trend, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to have large gatherings of fans this fall, whether it’s full stadiums or not. I certainly hope it’s going to be way more than 750, that’s for sure.”
The Lions largely played before empty stands throughout the 2020 season, outside of a handful of games toward the end of the campaign where a highly restricted number of family and friends were allowed through the gates.
The downtown stadium opened as a public vaccination site last week and has already seen tens of thousands of residents come through its doors for their first round of inoculations. And Wood said the team is willing to extend the agreement with the state if a request is made.
“We’ll certainly consider even extending it beyond the current term, to continue to support vaccines in the marketplace,” Wood said. “And, as I said, we’ll also do everything we can to help educate the public why it’s the right thing to do, to get the shot as soon as you’re (eligible) and it’s available to you.”
In addition to fans, the Lions will also strongly encourage their players to get vaccinated once they first report on April 19. While the league was able to play their full schedule in 2020 under strict protocols that included daily COVID testing and mandatory quarantine for close-contact exposure, the hope is to reduce the necessity for some of the stresses the pandemic added to the season.
“Together, with the players association, (we’re) doing everything we can to educate them on why it’s important and the safety measures that are in place with the vaccines,” Wood said. “Certainly, the goal is to encourage them to get vaccinated. It’s not going to be required, though. It’s a personal choice, but we’ll do everything we can to encourage them.”
In addition to getting fans back in the building, Wood hit on a number of other topics.
► Wood praised the execution of the collaborative leadership structure put in place this offseason with the hires of general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell.
“Everything that we described that we wanted is what’s happening,” Wood said. “There’s great collaboration. There’s great participation. Everybody’s voice is being heard and I think the results so far of what we’ve done and the results of what will come later on will prove that point out.”
Among the items that made news in recent weeks was owner Sheila Ford Hamp’s participation in free agency meetings. Wood said that wasn’t because she requested it, but because football leadership asked her to sit in on those sessions.
Wood was asked if the previous regime was as toxic as some players had said or media had reported. He declined to answer directly, but still managed to make the point clear.
“I’m not going to comment on the perception of the prior culture and whatever it’s labeled,” Wood said. “I just know going through that experience informed us on the culture we wanted. I’ll put it that way, and how we pursued the candidates that we ended up hiring for our head coach and general manager.”
► This year’s draft will be held in Cleveland, and Kansas City is on deck, but Wood is hopeful to score the three-day event for Detroit in 2024.
“We’re hoping to be a serious contender for the 2024 draft, and we’re still in the mix for that,” Wood said. “Hopefully we can bring that to Detroit, and by then everything is fully reopened and we can have hundreds of thousands of people downtown, enjoying the draft in Detroit. Look forward to continuing to try and win that kind of thing for the city and for the team, as well.”
► NFL rules permit teams to change their uniforms every five years and the Lions unveiled their current look in 2017. That means the team is nearing the window for a possible re-design.
“You give some thoughts to that,” Wood said. “We’re coming up on the window when we could make some changes. I haven’t really gone into the design phase yet. But that’s certainly something that once the window opens up, we’ll probably take a step back and look at the current roster that we have and any changes that we want to make. Do we continue with the color rush, etc.? It’s on my mind, but nothing official.”
► As part of the expansion to a 17-game regular season announced earlier this week, the NFL also noted teams will be required to play internationally once every eight years. The current markets for those games are London, Mexico and Germany, with potential expansion into other areas, including South America.
Wood noted the plan is for teams to play internationally during years when they would otherwise have a ninth home game. The Lions expect to play at least eight home games at Ford Field every season.
► The NFL also announced there won’t be an extra set of early OTAs for teams with new coaches this offseason. But Wood said there’s been some discussion about offering those franchises extra practice time after mandatory minicamp in June. The team hasn’t decided whether they’ll take advantage of the opportunity if it’s offered.
Optimism also remains high that there will be some in-person, on-field work during this year’s offseason program, as opposed to a repeat of last year’s fully virtual setup.
► Wood acknowledged continued progress is being made with the relationship between the franchise and Hall of Fame-bound receiver Calvin Johnson.
“We’re working actively with Calvin and his team on celebrations at the Hall of Fame, and continuing to have conversations with him,” Wood said. “I know he’s mentioned publicly that he’s connected with Sheila. That’s a positive step. We’ll continue to celebrate with him and I think the relationship is headed in the right direction.”
► Ticket prices won’t change. The Lions previously committed to retaining their 2019 pricing heading into the 2020 season and that carries over to this year.