Phoenix, Ariz. — When the Detroit Lions shifted the team’s headquarters to Allen Park in 2002, the state-of-the-art practice facility was the largest of its kind at the time. But as the game has continued to grow, and resource requirements expand, the Lions are weighing whether they’ve outgrown their home.
The team has struggled with some space issues, in the locker room and with some of its other amenities, including the cafeteria that’s being remodeled this offseason. But the limitations of the current facility are most glaring during training camp, where the infrastructure is inferior for maximizing the fan experience.
That’s why team president Rod Wood is weighing moving the Lions’ basecamp to another location.
“We’re considering whether we’re going to continue to stay there and put more money into the facility or be better off looking at locations elsewhere in metro Detroit, where we’d have more space for the team and training camp for the fans,” Wood said Tuesday evening at the league meetings. “But right now, in the short run, we’re going to stay where we are. Do the best we can to get as many fans in there and have the experience as good as it can be.”
Wood said his initial goal was to make a decision on a potential move this year, but that’s no longer a realistic timetable.
“I kind of had it as one of my goals this year, was to kind of decide are we staying or are we going to relocate,” Wood said. “I’m not going to hit that goal because I’ve not made that decision yet or recommendation. But it’s a near-term thing we need to decide.”
The Lions have had the opportunity to see some other training camp setups in recent years while conducting joint practices with other franchises. Last year, they got a firsthand look at the Colts expansive setup at the Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. But, as much as everyone enjoyed that setup, including members of the Lions organization, Wood said he’d prefer not shifting training camp off the grounds of the team’s facility.
“They’re not picking up and relocating to a new city,” Wood said about the proximity of Westfield to the Colts headquarters. “Players, I presume, are still going home at night, the coaching staff is still going home at night. I’d rather have a bigger practice facility with more fan experience than stay where we are and going on road for training camp.”
Wood said he’d love to be able to host up to 15,000 fans for training camp practices. The current setup in Allen Park can only host closer to 2,500.
Here are some other notes from Wood’s media session:
▶Yes, new uniforms are coming, but not until 2024. That will coincide nicely with the NFL draft, which the city of Detroit is slated to host next year.
This offseason, the Lions will be introducing a new, alternative helmet. That’s set to debut in late spring and will be paired with Detroit’s all-gray uniforms, as per league requirements.
▶Wood insisted he still doesn’t know whether the Lions will travel to Germany to play the Kansas City Chiefs next season, but at the very least, the current expectation is the team will have several primetime games.
In his conversation with the league’s schedule maker, Wood didn’t have many requests this year. He did note the team would prefer to open on the road, since they play nine games away from Ford Field this season and would rather not have a bunch of away matchups crammed at the end of the schedule.
Wood also noted, jokingly — but maybe with a little truth in his jest — he put in a personal request for Detroit’s road game against Baltimore to conveniently overlap with his son’s October wedding in Delaware.
▶The team continues to make positive progress mending the strained relationship with Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson. Wood delegated that task to COO Mike Disner, who has done a nice job connecting with Johnson on a personal level, according to previous comments made by the player.
Disner, who was at Wood’s media session on Tuesday, offered his perspective on the talks with the franchise legend.
“It’s been a pleasure to get to know Calvin throughout the process,” Disner said. “He’s an impressive, impressive guy. One of the best receivers in the history of the NFL, and on top of that, I mean, he cares deeply about his family, the community, football and the city of Detroit. Him and Barry (Sanders) choosing to live here after they’re done is part of what makes them so special.
“Just getting to know Calvin throughout the process, having that open dialogue and just getting to know him as a person, kind of what he’s interested in, a lot of that aligns with what we’re interested in as an organization, you know, helping the city grow the game,” Disner continued. “So we’re excited about furthering that relationship.”
▶After some struggles in recent years, the Lions aren’t having any issues selling tickets this offseason. The team is seeing an unprecedented renewal rate of season tickets, over 96% according to Wood, to go along with plenty of new orders.
Wood said he anticipates every home game being a sellout in 2023.
▶Both the practice facility and Ford Field turf replacements are complete. The team was initially going to stagger the installations by a year, but felt it made more sense to have the players practicing and playing games on identical surfaces.
Wood shared comments from recently signed running back David Montgomery, who called it the nicest turf he’s every walked on.
▶On the NFLPA survey of players that identified the team’s dining options and training room as weaknesses, Wood said the Lions conduct their own, more comprehensive survey of the roster, and found some overlap in those criticisms. He noted the team had already been taking a proactive approach to improvements in those areas before the NFLPA released their findings.
“Part of bringing in (director of player health and performance) Brett Fischer was a response to that,” Wood said. “And we’re redoing the dining facility. We’re taking the opportunity to move the dining facility upstairs, so we won’t be competing with the players and we won’t be taking space from them. Hopefully that will at least improve things. And we’ll continue to look at the surveys moving forward. We do it on everything with players, way beyond what the PA survey does. I think it was for the most part solid, but the same two areas were identified and we invested in them.”
▶The Barry Sanders statue for Ford Field is nearly completed. Wood anticipates a VIP event to initially unveil it before a ceremony prior the team’s home opener.