There was a time in the not so distant past when NFL training camps were primarily for season ticket holders and the hardcore, super zealous fans who knew every player’s middle name. Though it has been larger for some fan bases, Detroit Lions training camp was traditionally a smaller affair at Allen Park.
With the team making a long awaited upturn in 2011, there has been a steep increase in attendance for training camp. Although the team has not reached the pinnacle of their 2011 season with a playoff appearance, the number of rabid fans attending training camp has continued to skyrocket.
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Why the continued uptick in attendance if the team hasn’t been winning more? We can argue the effect of effectiveness of the Lions staff in regards to on field play, but not so with how they’ve dealt with fan interaction. The team has made it a focus every off-season to improve the fan experience during training camp and the numbers are a reflection of that attention.
In fact, if there is one big drawback to Lions training camp is the line to get in, with even that being handled differently each season (Not well, but differently, so they’re trying!)
As a training camp fanatic, I could probably write an entire piece on the changes the Detroit Lions have made to their training camp in the past few years. Rather than do that, why don’t we look at whether or not it’d be worth attending (If you never have before). The short answer is yes (See “training camp fanatic” above), but if you’ve never gone before you wouldn’t know WHY it’s a great experience and worth going.
Sharing Fan Interest
One of the only advantages of standing in line to get in is that you get to talk to those standing with you. You immediately share an interest and a passion with those around you. My first trip to training camp was a little unnerving at first, since I’m hardly a social butterfly, but nearly every conversation around you is about something you love: Your team.
Everyone there is excited to see the new players on the team, you’ll likely already see Van Noy and Ebron jerseys among the Johnsons and Sanders. Skeptical about the new additions? Those folks are there as well, but there tends to be a sense of cautious optimism that adds to the atmosphere.
Any chance that you can get your gear signed is a good opportunity. The Lions have handled autographs differently every season that I’ve attended, and I’m not sure how they’ll do it in 2014. Still, you can’t get gear signed if you don’t show up! It’s different players every season and your chances of getting something signed or getting a picture with a player can vary, but it’s worth showing up for.
Depending on the day, the players, and the crowd, actual player interaction with the fans can also vary. In the times I’ve attended camps, though, I’ve seen players walk right up to the fans on the sidelines and begin chatting them up and taking photos.
Last season, a large group of young children gathered under the nets the Punters were kicking to. Sam Martin was calling the children out, Babe Ruth style, and trying to kick the balls so they would slide down the net to the kids. My daughter was one of them, and she STILL talks about it.
Sam Martin was calling the children out, Babe Ruth style, and trying to kick the balls so they would slide down the net to the kids. My daughter was one of them, and she STILL talks about it.
Your Own Eyes
It’s very easy as fans to get drawn into the mystique of the players on our team. It’s been said that fans always think more of their best player than the rest of the league, and think their worst player is worst than the rest of the league does. We all can read about how good a player is doing in camp (as someone who writes about it, I hope you do!), but there is no substitute for your own eyes.
They can deceive you, sure, but if you’re a fan sitting at home and you see Joseph Fauria taking over for fan favorite Tony Scheffler, you might be worried once you see that “UDFA” next to his name. Not if you saw him in camp. You would have felt excited.
If training camp were televised, we’d ALL watch it. I would go as far as to say that there is a not so select group of you fans out there that would make an event of it, potentially spending an outrageous amount of your paycheck on salsa and tortilla chips (which is now making me hungry). Since it is not televised, however, that leaves you with a few options.
1. You can either read about it from articles written after the fact, possibly from folks like us here at SLR
2. You can follow beat writers, bloggers, or other fans on social media and hope you get great updates
3. You can experience training camp first hand, mingle with fellow fans, see your favorite players up close
Or, you know, my favorite option:
4. Go to training camp, it’s awesome and every fan should experience it at least once. Follow the excellent Detroit beat writers and your friendly neighborhood SLR writers on Twitter (Listed below), and get up to date updates throughout the entirety of camp. Check in for daily updates on SideLionReport.com and read the excellent content produced therein, then subscribe!
Side Lion Report: @SideLionReport
Justin Simon: @JustinSimon
Max DeMara: @SportsGuyTheMax