Last week, Sporting News named Detroit the top sports city in America for 2007. Between our teams, fans, and overall love for the games, this is no surprise to anyone who lives near the area. Here are 7 reasons why Detroit is the #1 sports city in America:
Why give up? In America’s #1 sports city for 2007 that simply is not an option. Annually, the Detroit Lions hold a disgrace of a season. Annually, fans continue to watch them play, and oftentimes show optimism prior to the season. The Tigers, who play right across the street from the Lions, were also in the sporting dumpster for years before making a deep run into the World Series last year. Giving up is not an option. Who builds shiny new stadiums (Comerica Park & Ford Field) for their horrible teams (Tigers & Lions)? We do. Who watches until the final buzzer no matter what the score? Of course, it’s Detroit again. (Disclaimer: Like all sports cities, Detroit is home to the notorious “fair-weather” fans, or bandwagons. And worry not, we let them have it, insulting them and jeering “Bandwagoner!” at every opportunity.) Detroit is the city that never gives up.
6. Covering Every Base
With a wide variety of citizens in the city and surrounding areas, it is true that there is something for everyone in Detroit. For basketball fans, the NBA and WNBA have excellent franchises in place in the Pistons & Shock. Tom Izzo’s Spartans in East Lansing are annually contenders in the NCAA Tournament. Detroit is Hockeytown, and our Red Wings have won ten Stanley Cups, the first in 1935. Joe Louis Arena is also home to college hockey action from Michigan and Michigan State, among others. Football fans have a unique ability with our NFL Lions — we can point at the TV and honestly proclaim “Even I can do that!” on a weekly basis for a few months. In Ann Arbor, the Big House packs in over 100,000 fans on Saturdays to watch the usually BCS-ranked Wolverines. While Detroit does lack a Major League Soccer team, we do have a Major League Indoor Soccer team. Of course, in an area synonymous with the mass production of the automobile, Michigan International Speedway carries NASCAR and Indy Car races. And for those who get bored of four wheels, Detroit carries many races in its adjacent water. The Detroit River is home to power boat racing, and the more casual annual International Tugboat Race. For peaceful Sunday afternoons, try Petanque. Detroit offers sports for everyone, regardless of what their entertainment preferences may be.
The fans in Detroit are always dedicated to their teams. Between December 10, 1996 and game one of the 2007 NHL playoffs, the Red Wings filled Joe Louis Arena with a sellout crowd for 452 straight games — an amazing mark. The Pistons have sold out 183 straight games going back to 2003-2004. Better yet, the team led the NBA in attendance from 2002-2003 to 2005-2006. The Chicago Bulls beat the Pistons in attendance during the past season; though, it should be noted that the United Centers in which the Bulls play has a higher capacity than the Palace of Auburn Hills. Capacity crowds are commonplace. Even Comerica Park has seen its fair share of fans. The team set a franchise ticket sales record in 2007, even with a good two months of baseball still remaining in the season. Before Sunday’s gloomy weather loss to the White Sox, the team had sold out 14 straight games, and is averaging over 37,000 fans per contest to date. In the 2003 WNBA Finals, the Detroit Shock set a WNBA attendance record of 22,076 fans. And how about those Lions? While the team has been on an excellent streak of horrible, unprecedentedly terrible play for years, the team has sold out every single game in Ford Field thus far. That speaks for itself — is there another city that could sell out Lions games? I think not, even if Ford Field is a lower capacity facility when compared to many of the NFL’s behemoth venues. We show up to Lions games — and pay to do so, enough said.
4. Need for Sports
As unemployment soars, auto companies move overseas and lose sales to foreign competitors, and Michigan’s economy continues to crumble, Detroit has taken quite a beating over the years. What was once a city with a population that may have reached 2 million between the 1950 and 1960 censuses is now a town with roughly 871,000 inhabitants. Abandoned buildings and urban decay dot the landscape, and without sufficient tax revenue or government efficiency, the city has certainly struggled with its reputation. At the end of 2005, the unemployment rate inside the city limits was a lofty 14.2%, leaving one-third of residents below the poverty line. Through the tough times, the city has been able to take an elevated pride in the successes and joys of its sports teams. The city’s blue-collar work ethic is reflected in its franchises, which serve a much more meaningful significance than many franchises in other large cities. Sports provides a common ground and a common dream for millions of residents in the metro area, regardless of social or economic class. It is the work ethic and personality of Detroit that creates a special bond between fan and athlete.
3. The World is Watching
Through the past several years, the city has been in the nation and international limelight on several occasions. In 2004, the Pistons took the NBA Finals, and followed it up with another trip in 2005. In the summer of 2005, the stars flocked to Comerica Park for the 76th Major League Baseball All Star Game. Super Bowl XL was held across the street in Ford Field in February of 2006, and the Tigers drew national attention by bringing the World Series back to Detroit in October that year. Ford Field is also scheduled to host the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament regional semifinals & final games, the 2009 Final Four, and also the 2010 Frozen Four. State of the art venues and prominent teams keep Detroit on top of not only the national sports scene, but also well known in the world stage. Shoot, we even made a bid for the Olympic Games once…
2. Proactive Fans
The fans of Detroit not only support their teams through cheering and filling seats, but also through involvement in the local sports scene. Internet users create literally hundreds of blog posts, fill web forums with their thoughts, and provide their views of the action on social photo sharing sites such as Flickr. Most notable, however, have been fan protests against the horrid management of the Lions under owner William Clay Ford and general manager Matt Millen. Rather than simply complaining, we here in Detroit like to take things to the next level. On 9 December 2005, the “Millen Man” Angry Fan March was held before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. At the game, an orange-out took place, in which fans were encouraged to wear the colors of the visiting Bengals — the protest drew much attention, and the emphatic “Fire Millen” chants and number of orange shirts were simply stunning to those viewing the game on TV. On Christmas Eve during the 2006 season, a fan walkout was staged, though only around 100 fans participated. Still, it is the active fans in the D that bring so much life to the sports scene. Should the Lions continue to embarrass the city, more protest attempts are certainly to follow. Likely using the Millen Man March for inspiration, Pittsburgh Pirates fans staged a similar protest last season.
Throughout the past several years, the city of Detroit has seemingly always had its time in the spotlight of the sporting world. While championships may not come in pairs, it is true that the city is home to some of the most successful teams in sports. The Detroit Tigers came out of the basement to take the American League Pennant in 2006 and now are serious contenders for another playoff run in 2007. The Pistons also made their fifth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in the spring, falling to the Cavaliers; however, the team has been to the NBA Finals twice in that span, winning it all over the Spurs in 2004. The Red Wings made it to the NHL Conference Finals in 2007, but fell to the Anaheim Ducks, who would advance to win the Stanley Cup in the Finals. Still, the Wings have an impressive run going: they have finished either first or second in the Central Division in each of the last 15 seasons, and the last time the team did not make the playoffs was the 1989-1990 season. That run includes Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, and 2002. The Presidents’ Trophy is also a common sight in the D, with the Wings most recently having posted the highest point total in the NHL in 2006 and 2004 (2005 was the lockout). The WNBA’s Detroit Shock won the league championship both in last season in 2003. Led by Flint-native Deanna Nolan, the team remains a strong contender in 2007. Don’t forget: Detroit is the City of Champions.