NFL Fans Left Sidelined By COVID-19 while Groves fans pack the stands

By AJ Camisa

Photo by AJ Camisa

Fans pack Groves high school football stadium, unable to socially distance, on November 6 at the Seaholm Groves playoff game, Groves beat Seaholm 30-21. Meanwhile, Ford Field was closed, and fans, even those with season tickets, could not cheer on the Lions.

Empty seats, abandoned stadiums, and a lack of spirit. The sports world has lost one of its most impactful pieces of the experience. The fans.

Since March of 2020 every major sport has lost its ability to have fans present at their games, causing a major disruption in something that is normally so routine. Due to the pandemic of COVID-19, fans have been excluded from attending sporting events in all the major leagues. The question teams and fanatics alike have been asking themselves is how much do fans truly affect the nature of the game?

Long time season ticket holder, Lori Boshnakian, explained how having fans in the stadium impacts the game.

“They provide the players with positive energy to play off of and provide fellow fans with the feeling of unity. When you go to a Lions game at Ford Field, not only are you going for the team, but you’re going for the experience. The fans are what make that experience so unique and one of a kind,” Boshnakian said.

Boshnakian recounts the energy she feels when she is at Ford Field. Boshnakian is able to make a connection with all of the other fans in the stadium even though she has never met them before. Her favorite part of being at Ford Field is the emotion she feels from 65,000 fans when the Lions score a touchdown.

“I can't even tell you how many times there was a big play or a touchdown scored, and I didn't jump up and high five a stranger sitting in the row behind me. When you go to Ford Field, you are surrounded by 65,000 people you have never met; yet, during the game they seem like your family. When fans go to Ford Field we all know why we're there, to cheer on the Lions and hope for a big win. Unfortunately, most of the time we don't get the big win part, but loyal fans like me come back year after year no matter what the outcome,” Boshnakian said.

After the Detroit Lions 2019-2020 season, getting fans into Ford Field was going to be a difficult task after the team finished the season with 3 wins, 12 loses, and a tie. Now, at the start of the 2020 NFL season Ford Field has been left vacant due to the current pandemic situation. Not only are the Detroit Lions missing out on revenue from fans, food, merchandise, and publicity, but many worry they are risking losing a cluster of loyal and dedicated season ticket holders and fans alike.

During the 2019-2020 NFL season, the Detroit Lions recorded 40,000 dedicated season ticket holders. According to the National Football League, the Detroit Lions brought in a total of 61 million dollars in total ticket revenue, which is an increase of 5 million dollars from the previous year. Now, the organization must come up with new ways to bring in revenue without allowing fans into the stadium on gameday. With the loss of having fans and an audience inside the stadium for events, teams must invent a new way to make revenue during the current pandemic. The NFL and its teams already make money from television companies such as ESPN, FOX, and NBC for broadcasting games on their platform. These deals, which the NFL and its teams sign with major broadcasting companies, helps to bring in revenue for the teams without needing a single fan in the stadium. According to the Chicago Tribune, the NFL creates nearly half of its 15 billion dollar revenue on television deals alone. Another tactic to bring in revenue is promoting team merchandise such as jerseys, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and even household items. By promoting merchandise, the Detroit Lions are able to bring in extra revenue and promote fan interest and involvement at the same time.

Photo by AJ Camisa

Ford Field is desolate and dark on November 12 as COVID-19 takes over the 2020-2021 NFL Season.

Detroit Lions broadcaster Dan Miller discussed the impact that COVID-19 has had on this season. The loss of fans has eroded the atmosphere and energy at Ford Field. Miller reflected on the enthusiasm lost in the stadium this season.

“You know, the fans provide us with so much excitement in and during a game. I always tell people my favorite moment is when the team runs out of the locker room. You just hear their excitement pour out, but we don't have that this year so that definitely provides a major difference,” Miller said.

One thing the fans don't have an impact on are the broadcasters. Broadcasters are essential to the game now more than ever; they provide dedicated fans a way to still feel they are at the game even when they can't be.

“We’re not in our normal spot because they needed to spread people out in the press box. They took our normal booth and gave it to the coaches, which allowed them to split them up into a couple different booths to give them social distancing. We actually are in a much better spot. We're on the 3rd floor right next to the television booth. We're normally on the seventh floor so we're much closer to the action and we have a much better sightline,” Miller said.

With the loss of fans in the stadium, teams are able to give their broadcast faculty a much more flexible spot to call the individual games from. Broadcasters essentially paint a picture of the game for the fans as those fans follow along. Now, broadcasters can call games while remaining safe, and fans are provided with a gametime experience from the comfort of their own homes.

One of the biggest issues with not having fans in the stands this year for football games is the loss of dedicated season ticket holders. Season ticket holders bring the most loyalty and dedication than other fans. Season ticket holders are left with a sense of emptiness as the pandemic stripped cherished traditions from them.

“Right about this time of year is my favorite part of the season. My son and I have a tradition to go to the Thanksgiving football game every year, but now, unfortunately, we will have to skip a year. I haven't missed a Thanksgiving football game with my son in the last 27 years. This is an extreme let down to me as it's something I look forward to every year. My son is a lawyer in Detroit, and he has 2 kids and a wife, which means he is usually busy with something every day of the year. Thanksgiving is that one day we get all to ourselves, no spouses, no kids, and no worries. Just me and my son enjoying some great football and making even better memories,” Boshnakian said.

Not only does the loss of fans have an effect on the energy of the stadium and the all around effect on the players, but not having fans in the stadium erodes a part of Detroit culture, especially on Thanksgiving. Families who look forward to the excitement of watching the game at Ford Field, must huddle at home.

“Am I disappointed that I won't be able to see the Lions play on Thanksgiving this year in person? Yes, but I know I will still have the opportunity to cheer them on with my son through the television. Keeping everyone safe during this pandemic is the biggest issue, and if having to switch my tradition for a year will do that, then I am fine with it,” Boshnakian said.

Photo by AJ Camisa

The streets of Ford Field are deserted prior to the Thanksgiving game as COVID-19 continues to escalate in Michigan.

With the statewide partial shutdown, professional sporting events are not allowed fans or spectators of any kind, but Michigan's high school athletic association (MHSAA), allows for each player to bring two guests to cheer them on during their games. This action by MHSAA provides sports fans with a way to still stay involved and get out of the house. Many dedicated sports fans now turn their attention to their local high school teams instead of their local professional teams.

“Honestly, I am more interested in Groves Football than Detroit Football. If you look at the recent years, the falcons have amounted to more than the Lions have. Since my freshman year, we have made the playoffs every year while the Lions have only made it to a wild card game just to get knocked out,” Groves High School Senior, Hayden Miller said.

Being able to cheer on a team in person, evening a frequently losing team, encourages fans to continue to support that team. Without this opportunity, fans often lose their dedication and remember more the times the team let them down when they were I'm the stadium watching them.

Miller expressed the moment he realized being a Lions fan comes with big let downs. Miller remembered one such moment at the Packers vs Lions game in week 13 of the 2015 season.

“Aaron Rodgers took the snap, dropped down in the pocket, saw the rush, escaped the pocket, wound up his cannon of an arm, and released a bomb deep down the field. The ball flew as high as I have ever seen, almost scraping the ceiling of Ford field. Then Richard Rodgers the Packers tight end jumped up in the end zone, secured the ball, and landed in the end zone. Everyone around me was in disbelief. Touchdown Packers roared through the stadium and it sounded like we were at Lambeau Field with all the excitement from the visiting teams' fans. 'GO PACK GO!' was all I could hear for the next 15 minutes as my family and I sat in complete and utter disbelief,” Miller said.

Boshnakian also experienced the Lions suffer through a winless season in 2008. Many tough games hr attended all ended in a loss. In 2008 the United States was going through another recession, Boshnakian looked at the Lions season the same way. Boshnakian understands that with football and life there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. In this case that light at the end of the tunnel was the Lions number one draft pick, Matthew Stafford. Boshnakian recounts her trip from Ford Field to Greek Town on the people mover and her conversation with a fellow fan.

“He talked about how disappointed he was in the Lions and how this was his last year ever being a season ticket holder. This hit me hard because I have gone through all the ups and downs with this franchise. When I hear someone say they've given up on the franchise, I do all I can to convince them otherwise. I tried to bring the upside with having the number one pick in the draft and being able to sign some new guys to our roster in the offseason, but my fellow fan was not having it. He told me that until the Lions make it to a super bowl he won't ever watch them again. In my opinion these are the people that are wrong with the fanbase. If you think about life when do you ever get the best case scenario? Almost never. You don't wake up one day and win the lottery, and that was what this fellow fan was expecting. He didn't wanna sit through the bad times, he just wanted to be there for the good and that's just not how life goes,” Boshnakian said.

The Detroit Lions are famous for blowing leads, getting horrible penalties, and continuing to underperform. Although fans are dragged back into cheering them on year after year, without the ability to cheer for them at the stadium, many fans yearn for new options, for other teams cheer on.

“If it came down to watching just the Lions or just the Groves Falcon football team, I would pick Groves because they win much more often than the Lions. I think I'm more interested in Groves Football than the Lions football team because they bring the fans something to look forward to every year, win games, and I get to watch my fellow classmates and friends play in a highly competitive atmosphere,” Miller said.

For most of the season, Groves had fans at their games, cheering on their players. As of November 18, the states' Grecthen new COVID-19 partial shutdown forced MHSAA to cancel the remainder of the high school football playoffs. Prior to this new shutdown, students, faculty, and parents packed the stands despite the pandemic.

Throughout the past four years, Miller experienced both the Lions and Falcons play through multiple seasons, despite the Lions past failures. He was consistently drawn back year after year to enter Ford Field and cheer for the Lions.

Now that Miller, a Lions season ticket holder since 2016, is unable to watch the Lions compete in person, he realized, even after the Covid restrictions are lifted, he will prefer to cheer on a local, winning team.

“Football and sports are just like today's entertainment in hollywood. Would you pay money to watch the same exact movie time and time again? I don't think you would. That's exactly how I feel about the Detroit Lions,” Miller said.

Most sports fans have that one moment when their team lets them down in a big way. Sometimes it’s a big loss, a player leaving, or even losing a championship. Most lions fans feel some sort of disappointment every year.

Lori recounted a time when she was at Buffalo Wild Wings watching the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions in the 2017 Wild Card Game. The Lions suffered a blistering 20 point loss, and her family was beginning to lose hope in their hometown team. Her nephew talked with a fellow fan at the bar where he expressed his doubts about the Lions.

“I remember my nephew saying 'here we go, same old lions', and a man at the bar near us showed him the positivity in this situation. He talked about how we at least made the playoffs and how we were headed into the right direction. I really thought this was a great piece of advice not only for a young fan but also as a young man,” Boshnakian said.

Sports are a huge part of American history, they have been around for hundreds of years. Most fans rally together when America faces adversity or a tragic event. Most Lions fans can face this adversity much better than other NFL teams fans can.

“In life we come across situations that may seem to have the same outcome multiple times, whether it be failing a test or losing a loved one. When we find these difficult times, we have to find that positivity in the situation. That's what I love about true Lions fans, we always find the bright side in things, no matter what the outcome. And when Covid is over and we can once again pack the stands, that will be one a great bright side."

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