DETROIT – The Detroit Lions are a bad football team, that we can all agree on. But fans calling for a “Thanksgiving Boycott” of the team are participating in an exercise in futility.
After the Lions, now 3-7-1, lost to the one-win Washington Redskins on Sunday, fans voiced their understandable frustration with the team’s coaching and management, increasing calls for boycotting the team on Thanksgiving -- basically meaning, fans shouldn’t buy tickets or show up for the game at Ford Field. But this idea is flawed from the start.
Tradition beats losing
The annual Lions Thanksgiving game is more than a football game featuring a losing football team. It’s a tradition in Detroit that dates back to 1934.
Folks who attend the Lions game on Thanksgiving aren’t really going for the football -- they’re going to enjoy a tradition with family and friends. Unfortunately, that tradition includes a lot of losing. That hasn’t ever stopped anyone.
Football on Thanksgiving is an American tradition, along with food and family. Yes, the Lions are bad -- but tradition is stronger than a bad football team.
How NFL teams make money
The idea is flawed in thinking a boycott would really hit ownership in the wallet. Ticket sales account for a small amount of team revenue.
According to the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 annual report, the NFL earned over $8.1 billion in national revenue in 2018, meaning each team received about $255 million in national revenue from the league.
Teams make money off of merchandising, licensing deals, along with ticket sales and concessions -- but revenue generated from these items don’t even come close to TV revenue. And local revenue for teams is spent on operating costs.
In 2018, the Packers spent $420 million on expenses. $213 million went to player salaries, and $208 million went to stadium maintenance, marketing, and team and administrative costs, leaving an operating income of $38.5 million.
There are other income streams for teams, like corporate sponsorship, and future opportunities like gambling and streaming rights, but for the most part, ticket sales, especially for one game, aren’t going to break a team.
Fans aren’t to blame
Some argue that it’s time for fans to take a stand against the Lions -- that somehow, Lions fans are to blame for the team’s performance and that fans have the power to change it. That’s just wishful thinking.
The play on the field is the fault of players, coaches, management and ownership -- not the fans. Teams in the NFL win or lose, with or without fans in the stands.
It’s also just too late for this. The Lions have been bad for decades -- and yet, fans have been filling up the seats week after week. The Lions rank No. 20 in attendance this year, according to ESPN, with a 95 percent rate.
It’s also worth arguing that maybe a stadium full of fans booing the home team on national television is more embarrassing than empty seats -- just ask the Tigers and Pistons.
Many fans point to 2005, when the Lions fired Steve Mariucci after the Thanksgiving game, but that game was sold out with an attendance mark of 62,390. Mariucci was fired for getting blown out on national television (27-7 against Atlanta), not because fans attended the game or not.
The point is, if the Lions keep losing, changes are very likely. But it won’t be based on Thanksgiving game attendance.
If you’re planning on attending the Lions game on Thanksgiving, make the most of it. Don’t let angry fans ruin your family tradition.
In the end, it’s just a game. And if history tells us anything, caring about the Lions in a good way or bad way is truly an exercise in futility.