Finally, people who want to watch more than Lions football when they go to Ford Field will have a reason to divert their eyes.
For the first time in franchise history, the Lions will have an official team of cheerleaders, team president Rod Wood announced Monday.
Detroit was among a handful of NFL teams to abstain from having cheerleaders. With the change, which Wood has said for months was a possibility, there are six teams without cheerleaders — Chicago, Green Bay, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Giants and Buffalo — though the Buffalo Jills worked for more than 40 years before being disbanded in 2014 after a lawsuit.
“The Ford Family is unwavering in their commitment to improving the Detroit Lions fan experience on and off the field,” Wood said in a statement. “After thorough consideration and receiving input from our fans through season ticket member surveys and focus groups, we believe that this is an opportunity to elevate our game day entertainment.”
The thought of the Lions having cheerleaders was so easily dismissed a few years ago that former president Tom Lewand, in 2012, made an April Fool’s joke that the team would finally add a team — but it would be males only.
Without an official team, the closest the Lions came to having a cheer squad was the formation of the Detroit Pride in 2010, and owner Andrea Wilamowski said she was thrilled to hear the news Monday even if it might overshadow her group.
“One hundred percent excited,” she said. “It’s taken a long, long time and we’re finally there. … This was our end goal as far as the Lions seeing that the fans really deserved cheerleaders and the team, as well.”
Grosse Pointe’s Matt Dudus, 45, has had season tickets for nearly a decade, and though he’s “somewhat ambivalent” about adding cheerleaders, he sees the value.
“The cheerleaders are what you see when there’s nothing else going on, so at least there’s something else going on on the field when there’s dead time in between plays and TV timeouts,” he said.
With a franchise as moribund as the Lions, other fans question whether the team’s priorities are in line, but Dudus said he has faith in the organization that it won’t become a distraction.
“I think it’s completely separate … from what’s going on on the field,” he said. “I’m sure (general manager Bob) Quinn has absolutely zero to do with it other than to say, ‘OK, fine.’”
The Lions hired Rebecca Girard-Smoker as director of the Detroit Lions Cheerleaders. She was dance team director with the Pistons and their team, “Automotion,” for 10 years. In addition to working with several other sports leagues, she directed the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders for a couple years.
The Detroit Pride will continue wandering tailgates before games and hosting non-Lions events, and Wilamoski said she’s hopeful a few of the women on the team can make the official squad.
In an interview with The News last month, Wood said team officials were looking at several possibilities to improve the game-day experience, something several teams are struggling with as the in-home experience has improved.
“There’s a lot of energy around (adding cheerleaders), and so I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t consider what the fans have that much interest in,” Wood said.
Wood also said owner Martha Firestone Ford never was opposed to cheerleaders, a long-rumored reason the team didn’t employ them when her late husband, William Clay Ford Sr., ran the team.
“Everything I know about cheerleading I’ve learned in the last couple months,” Wood said.
The Lions will have tryouts starting Saturday, June 25, at Ford Field. Registration is required ($25) and information is available at detroitlions.com/cheerleaders or by calling (313) 262-2300.
Tryouts are not open to the public.
The cheerleaders will make their regular-season debut Sept. 18 in the home opener against Tennessee.
“I think that it’s a great thing to have beautiful women dancing and supporting their teams and everything,” Wilamowski said. “It’s part of the entertainment dollar that you pay for the ticket. But, the things that we see and the things on this side of it are the young girls and having mentors … and being able to see the charitable aspect of things and getting the Lions out into the public.”