Why the Detroit Lions will have one less home game soon under new schedule plan

Detroit Free Press

The coronavirus pandemic scuttled their trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars last fall, but the Detroit Lions will be back on the NFL’s international stage soon — and likely will have to give up a home game in the process.

Lions president Rod Wood shed more light on the NFL’s changing international series rules Wednesday, saying every team will host a neutral site game at least once every eight years as part of the league’s expanded 17-game regular season.

“I think the change probably makes a little more sense with the extra ninth game being the game that would be periodically used to host a neutral site game,” Wood said after the league’s virtual spring meetings. “So even in a year when that might happen we would still have eight regular season home games at Ford Field, so it’s not as if we’re losing a home game that we’ve been accustomed to hosting.”

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The Lions played regular-season games in London against the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs in 2014-15, but were the visiting team both times.

Last year, they were scheduled to play the Jaguars in London, in a Jacksonville home game, before the NFL cancelled its international series due to COVID-19 concerns.

On Tuesday, the league expanded its schedule from 16 to 17 regular-season games, creating an imbalanced schedule — but also an opportunity to grow its international series.

AFC and NFC teams will alternate seasons with nine home games, and the league will use the additional date to ensure every team plays internationally.

Previously, teams that relocated or were awarded Super Bowls were required to play one home game internationally. The Jaguars were among a small handful of teams that voluntarily gave up a home date to play overseas, but the NFL found most teams reluctant to move lucrative home games to a neutral site and some stadium leases made forfeiting home dates virtually impossible.

In 2016, shortly after he took over as president, Wood said he was interested in having the Lions take part in an NFL initiative to play games in China, in part because of the business opportunities it could create.

Then-Lions general manager Bob Quinn convinced Wood to abandon that idea, and the NFL’s China series never got off the ground.

Instead, the league expanded its London schedule to four games and added a fifth international date in Mexico.

In addition to those locations, the NFL said Tuesday it will focus its international efforts on Germany, Canada and South America going forward.

Wood said the NFL will begin requiring teams to give up home dates in 2022 or 2023. he added that he does not know which international market would be of the greatest interest to the Lions.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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