Lions’ Wood talks return of fans, bringing draft to Detroit, new uniforms and more
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed confidence this week that the league’s 32 teams would welcome fans back to full stadiums for the 2021 season, and Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said Wednesday the team was navigating minutes with representatives the city and state to make sure they get as far as possible safely back to Ford Field.
“It sure is my hope,” said Wood. “In fact, between the end of the league sitting and this press conference, I had a call to the state today to keep the dialogue going. I had a call to the mayor’s office last week. Obviously we’re trying to do all we can I think that is an important step in this area with the vaccination issue at Ford Field.
“I think we do between 5,000 and 6,000 vaccines a day there,” said Wood. “We’re going to do everything we can to support pressure sensitive adhesives and help other people get inspiration for the vaccine, understand how safe it is and the importance of coming back. I think if we continue this trend, there’s a pretty good one there is chances are we’ll have big gatherings of fans this fall, whether it’s full stadiums or not, I definitely hope it’ll be way over 750 that’s for sure. “
The Lions played in front of empty stands for the most part throughout the 2020 season, except for a handful of games towards the end of the campaign that saw a severely restricted number of family and friends let through the gates.
The downtown stadium opened as a public vaccination site last week and has seen tens of thousands of residents come through the doors for their first round of vaccination. And Wood said the team is ready to extend the agreement with the state if a request is made.
“We will certainly consider extending it beyond the current term to continue supporting vaccines in the market,” said Wood. “And as I said, we will also do everything we can to educate the public as to why it is the right thing to get the shot as soon as you are (authorized) and it is available to you.”
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In addition to fans, Lions will strongly encourage their players to get vaccinated when they first report on April 19th. While the league was able to play its full schedule in 2020 under strict protocols that included daily COVID tests and mandatory quarantine for hand-to-hand combat. With contact stress, the hope is to alleviate the need for some of the stresses the pandemic has added to the season.
“We are doing everything we can with the players’ association to explain why it is important and what safety measures are being taken with the vaccines,” said Wood. “Of course the goal is to encourage them to get vaccinated. However, it won’t be required. It is a personal choice, but we will do everything we can to encourage them.”
Not only did Wood bring the fans back into the building, but he dealt with a number of other topics as well.
► Wood praised the implementation of the collaborative leadership structure introduced this off-season with the recruitment of General Manager Brad Holmes and Trainer Dan Campbell.
“All we described, what we wanted is what happens,” said Wood. “There is a great collaboration. There is a great participation. Everyone’s voice is heard and I think the results of our work so far and the results of the later results will prove this.”
News released in the past few weeks included owner Sheila Ford Hamp’s participation in free agency meetings. Wood said it was not because she requested it, but because football officials asked her to attend those meetings.
Wood was asked if the previous regime was as toxic as some players said or media reported. He declined to answer directly, but still managed to get the point across.
“I’m not going to comment on perceptions of previous culture and whatever labels it,” said Wood. “All I know is that this experience told us about the culture we wanted. I’ll put it that way and how we chased the candidates we ultimately hired for our head coach and general manager.”
► This year’s draft will be in Cleveland and Kansas City is on deck, but Wood hopes to get the three-day event for Detroit in 2024.
“We hope to be a serious contender for the 2024 draft, and we’re still in the mix for that,” said Wood. “Hopefully we can take this to Detroit and by then everything will be fully open and we can have hundreds of thousands of people downtown enjoying the Detroit design. We look forward to continuing to try something like this for the city and for winning the team too. “
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► Under NFL rules, teams can change their uniforms every five years, and the Lions unveiled their current look in 2017. That means the team is approaching the window for a possible redesign.
“You’re thinking about it,” said Wood. “We’ll come to the window when we could make some changes. I haven’t really gotten into the design stage yet. But that’s certainly something that once the window opens, we’ll probably take a step back and look at the current list that we have and any changes we want to make. Shall we continue with the color rush etc? I think about it, but nothing official. ”
► As part of the expansion to a 17-game regular season announced earlier this week, the NFL also determined that teams will have to play internationally every eight years. The current markets for these games are London, Mexico and Germany with possible expansion into other areas including South America.
Wood noted that the teams should play internationally in years when they would otherwise have a ninth home game. The Lions expect at least eight home games to be played at Ford Field each season.
► The NFL also announced that there will be no additional early OTAs for teams with new coaches this off-season. But Wood said there has been some discussion about offering these franchises extra practice time after the mandatory June mini-camp. The team has not decided whether it will take the opportunity if it is offered.
Optimism remains high that some face-to-face work will take place on site during this year’s offseason program, as opposed to repeating last year’s fully virtual setup.
► Wood acknowledged that further progress is being made in the relationship between the franchise and Hall of Fame recipient Calvin Johnson.
“We are actively working with Calvin and his team on Hall of Fame celebrations and continue to have conversations with him,” said Wood. “I know he publicly mentioned that he is connected to Sheila. This is a positive step. We will continue to celebrate with him and I think the relationship is going in the right direction.”
► The ticket prices do not change. Lions previously committed to maintaining their 2019 pricing into the 2020 season, and that carries over to this year.