The Detroit Lions Have The Right Kind Of Sellouts


This is for all those who couldn’t help but get excited for Sundays on Thursday afternoons even when Detroit was winless late in the season. This is for the fans who had to lock themselves in isolation to watch the game, away from all the nay-sayers who constantly bashed your Lions. This is for anyone that, despite the untimely injuries, coaching blunders, draft busts, off-field troubles or on-field shenanigans, lack of leadership, overall win/loss record, or any other reasons (and there are many), still tuned in, confident this was their week to win it, only to find that the game won’t be aired because, yet again, Ford Field didn’t sell out.

Alright, so maybe it’s not that dramatic. Right now, at least.

The rule that frustrated so many of us Lions fans for years has finally been changed. No longer will the NFL require a sell-out (not including club seats and suites) 72 hours in advance of game day in order for the it to air on TV locally. Instead, the league dropped the requirement down to 85%, which means Ford Field would need to sell just under 47,000 tickets.

A rule that was instituted several years ago in order to encourage fans to actually attend the games and spend money is being modernized, due in part to the rise of internet streaming and the fact that football is probably the best sport to watch at home vs. in person.

The change doesn’t mean much in Detroit except for perhaps a little insurance that has arrived a few years too late. The Lions shouldn’t have much of an issue selling out each home game so long as they continue progressing towards elite status. Of course they still have other instrumental draws to the stadium like the potential of a Calvin Johnson circus catch or Ndamukong Suh steam-rolling a quarterback. But still, while it’s important to live in the moment knowing that Detroit is climbing in the ranks, the altered rule will one day affect us again.

Detroit sold out all eight of its home games in 2011, and seven in 2010, but the last few years in a very small sample of the whole story.

In 2008, they were dead last in the NFL in average attendance at home games, average 54,497 per game. Last year, the Lions rose to 21st in the league, averaging 63,742 attendees per game. Even though 21st is in the bottom half, it’s due to venue limitations, as that average comes out to selling 98.8% of all seats available seats in 2011. Ford Field only holds right around 65,000, so that’s a pretty good indicator of how gradual success in the post-Millen era has helped fill the stands.

In addition to the sales requirement change, the league added another rule to hedge their bets a bit and still try to fill the stands. A respective home team must now set a benchmark for how well they believe each game will sell. For example, if the Minnesota Vikings think they can only sell 90% of their Week 8 tickets against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they must submit that number to the league. If they don’t hit the 90% sales mark, the game won’t be televised. But, if they go over that mark, the Vikings will be required to shell out extra money to the Bucs.

Home teams currently pay visiting teams .34 on the dollar for each ticket sold. For each seat above the threshold set by the home team that is sold, the royalty increases to .50 on the dollar (just think about how much a single ticket costs, and it all adds up). This where the strategy sets in: let’s say the Vikes are 2-6 going into Week 8, while the Bucs are 4-4. This is a game that won’t get anyone excited and is unlikely to sell out. Now Minnesota’s management needs to come up with a percentage between 85 and 100 that ensures local broadcast, but also won’t cost them loads of money.

So in some cases, in the hopefully very distant future, it might be a good thing that Ford Field doesn’t accomodate a ridiculous amount of guests. For 2012, the rule won’t affect teams like New England, Dallas, or presumably Detroit, that know they are going to sell out, but it will require some strategic tactics from some of the league’s bottom-feeders on a game-by-game basis.