fter almost 30 years of playing in the Silverdome in faraway Pontiac, the Detroit Lions
returned to downtown Detroit this season to take residence in their brand new stadium,
Ford Field. As was the case with the Silverdome, Ford Field is an indoor, climate controlled
venue, but unlike their former home, this new stadium incorporates state of the art
architecture, fan amenities, premium seating, and all in a downtown location which has
experienced a dramatic urban resurgence in recent years.
Getting to the venue
Ford Field is located on Brush Street and is tucked into the northwest corner of downtown
Detroit. The stadium is surrounded on the east and north sides by I-375 and I-75,
respectively, with easy access off of the interstates. The stadium is served by an elaborate
grid of streets which run through downtown, and parking is scattered across the downtown
core. Parking at the stadium is extremely limited, with most spots in the surface lots and
the adjacent ramps at Comerica Park reserved for premium seat holders and season ticket
holders. There are private surface lots and ramps all over downtown, although several of
these are also sold out on a season permit basis. You are looking at a 15 minute walk at
most, and farther lots are accessible via a people mover system, which is essentially a
monorail which loops through the entire downtown district and deposits you about two
blocks from the main entrance to the stadium. Top parking rate near the stadium is $30... by
contrast one can park at Joe Louis Arena, about 2 miles away, for $5, and the fare for the
people mover is 50 cents. Because there are so many streets and expressways around the
downtown area, traffic here both in and out is not a chore.
Outside the venue
North and east are expressways, and directly to the west sits Comerica Park, home of the
Detroit Tigers, and just beyond that venue lies the city's emerging theatre district,
including the FOX theatre, the Detroit Opera House and Hockeytown cafe. South of the
venue towards the Renaissance Center is Greektown, the hopping new district with bars
and restaurants and the new Casino(more on that later!). There are severe tailgating
restrictions imposed in most parking lots, and "designated" tailgate lots can be found on
the other side of the interstates only. Brush St is closed to the public on game days, and
there are a couple of radio stations with their booths and a few vendors, but nothing really
special or elaborate. The centerfield area at Comerica Park is open to the public, with a live
band and concessions available, and fans can do photo opps in front of the Tigers' "retired
statues". With no great tailgate scene and lacking pre and post game activities and
events, people here generally show up and just go to the game.
The stadium - architecture and concourses
The building is primarily brick, glass and steel, with a structural steel roof covering the
building. The spectacular main entrance to the venue is along Brush Street and right
across the street from the centerfield gate to Comerica Park. Here you find a circular
glassed atrium, with the "Ford Field" marquee emblazoned across the top. The main
concourse here is at ground level, which means that the playing field is well below street
level. The atrium is magnificent, a glassed rotunda which leads you to anyplace you want to
go... escalators to the upper level and the fabulous Hudson's Warehouse concourse to
your right, the 100 level concourse to your left, and your first exciting glimpse of the
seating bowl beckons straight ahead. Around the atrium's mezzanine level is a balcony
which makes for a great viewing spot of the comings and goings into the building.
Being a rectangular building, we can divide the main concourse into four sections - one on
each side, and they are all named after the street they run along or the street that they
were built over. For example, the west endzone concourse is called the "Brush St"
concourse, and the south sideline the "Adams St" concourse. It is the Adams Street
concourse that is the cool and ambient corridor in the building. This concourse was built
right over the street, and the old Hudson's Warehouse was incorporated into the stadium.
The Adams St concourse is designed like an old time cobblestone street, and on the
seating bowl side you can find wrought iron gates separating the seating area from the
corridor (wrought iron gates and fences INSIDE a venue, that is a first!). Along the
warehouse side is a shopping arcade with concession stands, coffee shops, a very large
team store called "More Than A Roar", and even a small nook right near the 50 yard line,
where stands a tall obelisk with some vintage photos and exhibits of Lions past, and
computer kiosks for fans to look up individual and team stats on the Lions. The concession
stands have a local theme, with such shops as "Poletown Sausage" and "Ah Moore!" which
is coffee and confectioneries. This is also the side of the building where the main club
deck and four levels of suites run along the sidelines, so the upper levels are reserved for
premium seat holders. Above the main entrance atrium on the mezzanine level is a second
skylit atrium, this one going four stories high with skylights, brick veneers, balconies along
each level and glass elevators to whisk suite holders to their levels in style.
Now that we have described the Adams St side and the Hudson Warehouse, then there are
the rest of the concourses, and they are rather plain and ordinary. The concourses on the
other three sides of the building are fairly spacious, but really lacking in any dazzling
design or ambience. An interesting effect - the glass here looks like something out of a
warehouse, and even exit doors are shaped like overhead garage doors. Maybe this
spartan look was deliberate, but to the casual observer it appears as if they ran out of
money to finish this thing. There is plenty of public space in each corner, and on the
seocnd level (this venue has but two public concourses, upper and lower), there is a
public lounge area and a "Comcast" interactive game area, and a spot where fans can have
their photos taken with a Ford Field field backdrop.
The seating bowl
The Ford Field seating bowl is clearly the nicest and most dramatic part of the building.
With less than 65,000 seats, this is an intimate venue for football, and, for the most part,
there are but two decks of seating in the building, which means that even if you are seated
in the top row, you are still close to the action. The lower bowl wraps around the entire
circumference of the venue, while the upper deck only covers three sides. The Adams
Street sideline has a small club level porch, and then four levels of suites. Two massive
video boards hang high above each end zone but not directly behind the top of the seats.
These boards protrude a bit and hang roughly in line with the front row of the upper deck.
This brings the boards even closer to the seats and make them appear even larger. Along
each sideline balcony are our favorite digital LED graphics boards, interspersed with
backlit corporate marquees. Seats are in team colors, blue and grey, and a brick wall
matching the Hudsons Warehouse fascia wraps around the playing surface.
But the coolest thing about the Ford Field building, and unique to domed stadiums, is the
attention to natural light in the building. High above the seating area are opague skylights
all around the building, which allow plenty of daylight to filter in. Next, two corners of the
seating bowl are actually open to the street - when you are in your seats you can look out
into the main atrium, or a second open area in the opposite corner, and actually look
outside onto the street. If it's raining or snowing, you can see it happening from inside the
seating bowl, yet you are sitting in 65 degree comfort. Unlike any indoor venue, when you
sit at Ford Field you almost feel like you are outside!
In another interesting twist, the concession stands here not only bear the street name, but
the actual street ADDRESS, and yes, the street numbers coincide with the numbers running
outside the venue. The coolest concessions can be found in the Adams Street concourse,
with Poletown Sausage and Big Boy. A pizza stand bears the number of the immortal #20,
Barry Sanders. And of course, we did mention "More Than A Roar", the Lions team shop
which offered a gigantic selection of souvenirs and apparel. With the day being hectic as it
was, we had little opportunity to try out the food items.
Club seating here runs along both sidelines, but interestingly, they also designate the
center sections in the UPPER deck as club seating. Seating prices run from $155-$245 per
ticket, and there are still a few of the cheaper seats available for single ticket sales. There
are large club lounges on both the north and south sides of the building for the club and
suite holders, but no separate concourse area. Again, the most attention to premium seat
amenities is on the Hudson's Warehouse side of the stadium, and here are spaces for
banquets, corporate meeting rooms... even the pressbox, team offices and locker facilities
are housed in this reconfigured building.
OK what gives here? Are the Lions not one of the oldest and historic franchises in the
NFL??? Where are your championship banners and the heralding of your icons? OK let's
check out the corridors.... is that obelisk in the Adams concourse all you guys got????
HUGE DEDUCTION LIONS! Would you guys like a tutorial on how to do things right? Then
step out the front door, cross the street and walk into Comerica Park... marvel at the
statues of the retired Tigers greats, then step into their concourse and see the Tigers
history richly displayed in decade by decade exhibits. The Lions have some work to do in
Touchdowns, extra points, fumbles
Touchdown - to the Detroit Lions management, specifically Mark Cheklich of the marketing
department, who arranged for a terrific scoreboard/PA tribute to mark the final stop on the
Ultimate Sports Road Trip. Thank you Mark and your colleagues for this terrific gift to us!!!
Touchdown - to the entire set up at Ford Field, and as much as we prefer outdoor stadiums
for football, this type of indoor setup allows for the best of both worlds, an indoor venue
with an outdoor feel. Well done!
Fumble - to the USRT karma, and we tried so hard to will the Lions to a win over the Bucs,
but even though they kept it close, a long field goal try by the Lions in the closing minutes
fell short, and the Bucs ran out the clock to secure a 23-20 win. Well maybe the karma was
used up the previous night, because...
Touchdown - at the Greektown Casino, Pete pulled the lever on a 50 cent slot machine. Two
Lucky 7's and a wild card showed up, and within seconds attendants were at the scene
securing the machine and offering Peter their congratulations. The payout? 5000 coins... a
cooooooool $2500 jackpot! Isn't that great?!
Extra point - the home team intro is kind of cool. With the music blaring and the smoke
machine fogging, the Lions run out of the tunnel, through a CAGE door which opens up. A
Lions cage, get it?
Fumble, penalty, ejection and hearing before the commish - to Stephen, a member of the
Lions sphincter police who tried to confiscate our specially made banner and wreaked
havoc with us when we attempted to do an interview with a local TV station. The detailed
story is below, but here is one guy who put a real damper on what was otherwise a special
and momentous day for us.
Touchdown - to WJBK Ch 2 in Detroit and sports anchor Charles Pugh, for the terrific pre
game interview on our trip. The interview ran on the 10 o'clock news.
Extra point - for the music selection at Ford Field. Detroit is known for so many great
artists who have called the area home and the music that is played in Ford Field reflects
that local touch. The sounds of Eminem "Lose Yourself", Aretha Franklin"R-E-S-P-E-CT", Kid
Rock, and Kiss' classic hit "Detroit Rock City" were all a part of the in game
presentation.....well done Lions! Next time maybe a little Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, or
Madonna to go with what is already played.
Touchdown - to the Kulyk and the Farrell families, who made the trip with us and added so
much to make this celebration a special one. Lots of love to you guys and thanks for your
help all along the way.
Extra point - nice set up with the people mover system around downtown Detroit. With
65,000 people converging on one location, you'd be amazed to see how easily things clear
out here. Take a lesson Gillette Stadium!
Extra point - props to JIm Vigeant and fiance Carrie, and Bob Kelly and wife Julie, these
guys are roadtrippers like us and joined us for the Saturday festivities. Also thanks to
Stoney Creek Brewing Company and Jacqueline Dailey for all the help.
Andrew never met a new venue where he didn't immediately say "five stars". And indeed,
Ford Field is a terrific place to see a game... the intimate seating bowl and the Lions roar
make the experience here really special. The beautiful atrium, the Hudsons Warehouse and
all its amenities, are also very nice. We like the downtown location and Detroit is coming
back in a big way! But we offer these points, which take away from making this the premier
venue in football - first, the absence of retired numbers and championship banners;
second, the lack of synergies outside the stadium to make the day long game day
experience complete. Detroit can take some lessons from Seattle as to how to set up a
street festival outside, when room for individual tailgating is sparse. Next, the concourses
on three sides of the building need some more attention. Lastly, irrespective of all the
points we just mentioned, 5 stars was taken off the table before we even set foot in the
building, and that was due to our harsh dealings with a member of the Lions security
brigade. We rank customer courtesy highly, and the Lions failed that test.
So after a lot of thought and debate, the ranking could have been a top ten finish for Ford Field, and
yes, we do plan to come back here again, and hope to see the above issues addressed and attended
Food and team store 8
Scoreboard and electronics 7
Fan support 6.5
Location and neighborhood 6
Banners and history 2
In game entertainment 8
Concourses/fan comfort 8
Bonus: Tailgate scene 1, USRT assist 3, Hudson Warehouse 1