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Col. Kurtz succinctly characterized the Detroit Lions in 2015: "The horror … the horror." This is the way the world endsNot with a bang but a whimper.— T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men” 1925There’s not much more to say about the Detroit Lions that already hasn’t been written or said over the past eight weeks , but here goes.Sunday morning’s 45-10 debacle in London — it wasn’t as close as the final score indicates — was an emphatic reminder that the product the organization is marketing to its customers is an enormous disappointing failure. That’s been clear for awhile, but the entire world got to see it on Sunday.The Lions, just 10 months removed from a playoff game, are now 1-7 at the midpoint of the season. If the team were a car, it would be a clunker with a janky transmission best replica hermes bags , four bald tires, and no brakes — a total lemon.But fans still show up at Ford Field.Why?Because the NFL is deeply ingrained in America’s psyche. Because of tradition. Because it’s a fun trip downtown. Because some fans want to jeer and boo. Because of masochism. Because some are diehards. Because it beats raking leaves. Because friends are going. Because they boss invited them. Because the tickets were already paid for, dammit. Because the tickets were free.The reasons are legion, but don’t matter. NFL clubs rely on all of them to sustain their businesses. Fans keep coming, and they also keep watching on TV. I’m just as guilty of the same slavish devotion to a tragically flawed product (See: Browns, Cleveland; 1965-now).When the Lions collapse into free-fall, as they so often do, fans mutter and grumble about boycotting games. Media pundits call for the faithful to stay away (and for everyone connected to the team to be fired or traded).Because of the modern NFL’s economics, fan boycotts don’t have a particularly acute affect on the club’s finances. The Ford family isn’t going to be forced to clip coupons if you stay at home.The Lions are insulated in the short term because fans bought approximately 40,000 season tickets, maybe more, and that’s money in the bank.Any attendance decline the rest of this year will have only a limited impact on the team’s finances. Fewer people in the stadium means fewer customers buying merchandise and concessions — declines that equally punish the team’s business partners who split sales with the team: Indianapolis-based MainGate Inc. runs the brick-and mortar store inside Ford Field, and Chicago-based Levy Restaurants handles the food and beverage sales. Jacksonville, Fla.-based sports merchandise giant Fanatics Inc. does the team’s online retailing.So when fans don’t buy jerseys and beers at the stadium, or anything from the team’s website, those companies are affected almost as much as the football team. The ratio of sales revenue splits has never been disclosed, but concessionaires keep anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of a sale.Because the NFL shares revenue among its 32 clubs, local sales declines in Detroit are offset by new spending in hot markets elsewhere. Fans going crazy over the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals are spending cash that will trickle its way into the pockets of the 31 other clubs.Attendance declines typically manifest themselves the following season, when fans opt to not buy season tickets, so the real impact wouldn’t be felt until 2016.For example, the 2008 Lions that went winless averaged 54,497 fans per game at 64,500-seat Ford Field. The next year, that average fell to 49,395 per game.Some impact already is being felt now, however. Detroit is averaging 60,403 in 2015 — a decline from last year’s 63,024.The Lions still have four home games remaining this season, and they likely will see a further drop. The Thanksgiving Day game almost always is a sellout because of tradition, so that skews the attendance trend a bit.Casual fans will still come to games for the novelty or to see legitimate stars such as Calvin Johnson, even if the team is winless. That makes it impossible to organize a serious boycott. Attendance declines happen organically.Even then, the financial impact is limited because of the NFL’s revenue sharing model.The league accrued more than $7 billion last year via its national TV deals and its licensing agreements. That translated into a $226.4 million payday for each club, which more than covers the $140 million payroll.Of course, the Lions have other expenses, such as coach and staff payroll, debt service on Ford Field, and an enormous utility bill for the stadium.In 2008-09, the Lions did feel some financial heat, I’ve been told, but the league’s shared revenues have grown so dramatically via the TV deals that were signed in 2011 that it’s unlikely to be especially acute these days.It’s a helluva business model and one that has congressional blessing to act as a monopoly.Fans are left with the mess, and their frustration and anger is palpable. They want to cheer for a winner, and have been denied much of an opportunity for nearly 60 years. They’re left will few options, since punishing the team by withholding their money is offset by the league’s socialized financial model.To paraphrase a quote from the 19th century writer-politician Ignatius Donnelly, “The Detroit Lions are like a mule: They have neither pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity.”Perhaps that’s a bit cruel, but it rings true. Though there was a brief and unrealized flash of hope in the 1990s, this franchise hasn’t won a championship since the oldest baby boomers were 11 years old. We’re four generations into a holding pattern of mediocrity.In the sterile, textbook free-market economies that populate the daydreams of Ayn Rand disciples, the Lions would have been put out of business by a competing pro football team. But thanks to an antitrust exemption, the NFL is a legal monopoly when it comes to the gargantuan TV deals that keep all teams nicely afloat.The USFL briefly challenged the NFL in the 1980s, but the league was so large and entrenched in our culture by then that even a successful court fight failed to alter the status quo. The presence of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers did nothing to chip into the Lions’ stranglehold on the Detroit market.A sliver of hope: NFL clubs are keenly aware of criticism, and they do succumb to pressure. They’re aware when there are 20,000 fewer fans in the stadium, even if it’s not much of a financial hardship. The NFL thrives on optics, and empty stadiums frighten both the league and its TV partners.Team owners and front office officials are human. They’re not immune to what is said, and social media has had a profound impact on that dynamic among fans, players, media, owners, etc. Some listen more than others, but all teams are keenly aware of the criticisms — especially when the local anger coalesces into thunderous national mocking.And as human beings, team owners are susceptible to the same frailties as the rest of us, namely embarrassment. Even as a billionaire, Martha Firestone Ford doesn’t enjoy the humiliation of an inept Lions team.The central criticism of her late husband, who died last year, was that he hired unqualified people and then remained loyal to them for far too long. We have no idea if Martha Ford will clean house during or after the season. Since she inherited the club, the image created of her is of a fierce figure who handles business privately. She’s actively engaged as an NFL owner at age 90, by all reports.She’s not going to sell the team, despite what some fans and pundits desire. The Ford family has been linked to the Lions since the 1940s, with her late husband taking full ownership in January 1964. Their car company’s name is written in massive letters across the top of the stadium. She’s no more going to sell the Lions than shed all her stock in Ford Motor Co.The hope is that Ford has no tolerance for the Lions’ shameful ways, and will orchestrate changes built around hiring qualified people to find better football players and coaches.It’s an easy recipe for success, but has proven catastrophically impossible for the Detroit Lions to execute for six decades. We’ll find out soon if Ford will “terminate … with extreme prejudice.”And then we’ll find out if it makes any difference at all.“The horror… the horror…” — Kurtz, from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” in 1899, and 1979’s “Apocalypse Now”Up next: Lions, Wolverines and SpartansMercifully, the Lions (1-7) have a bye week. They can’t lose that, right? Fans and media wonder if Martha Ford will fire coach Jim Caldwell this week. Stay tuned!Detroit’s effort to win a second game doesn’t get any easier when it returns to the playing field at 1 p.m. Nov. 15 at Green Bay. The Lions haven’t won there since Dec. 15, 1991.The No. 16 University of Michigan Wolverines (6-2), coming off a 29-26 final-play road victory at the University of Minnesota, host Rutgers University (3-5) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on the Big Ten Network.Unranked Rutgers is coming off a 49-10 road loss at the University of Wisconsin.The No. 6 Michigan State University Spartans (8-0), idle this weekend, visit the University of Nebraska (3-6) ay 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. The unranked Cornhuskers were edged 55-45 at Purdue University on Saturday. Related LinksFreep’s Drew Sharp and Matt Dery replace Drew Lane in afternoons on WMCG 105.1 FMLooking back: Cherry Bowl wasn't fruitful, but college games didn't stay awayRazing Silverdome may give Pontiac a liftMeet the new Detroit Lions boss: Interim COO takes day-to-day control of teamDetroit Lions fire execs Lewand, Mayhew Recent From BILL SHEA A year after Mike Ilitch's death, downtown development plans surge ahead while his beloved Tigers are torn down MM3rdQB: Lions coaching search points at New England candidate MM3rdQB: Lions avoided getting scooped on Caldwell firing A look back at 2017 in Detroit sports business, a year of hellos and goodbyes MM3rdQB: How many fans really show up to Quick Lane Bowl, and does it matter?

MM3rdQB: It’s ‘Apocalypse Meow’ for toothless Detroit


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