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Birmingham — Detroit needs to continue working to change the city's image, money and hotel rooms to lure more national sports events — like the NFL Draft in 2022  — a panel of sports executives said Thursday.

"There's no doubt that we're known across the country as a great sporting town," said Bud Denker, president of Penske Corp., the company founded by motorsports giant and business titan Roger Penske. "But we still have a perception problem. That challenge is still there."

Penske helped bring Super Bowl XL to Detroit in 2006 and one of his company's subsidiaries is the Detroit Grand Prix, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year.

"We're doing it one person at a time, but big events help change that perception," Denker said.

He made the remarks at the Detroit Free Press Breakfast Club meeting, held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. About 220 attended the sold-out event.

Rod Wood, president of the Detroit Lions football team, and Denise Ilitch, former president of Ilitch Enterprises LLC, joined Denker on the panel for a fireside chat-type discussion on how Metro Detroit can attract more sports events.

Wood said the Lions organization is working to bring the NFL Draft to Detroit in 2022. "I'm optimistic but it's a competitive process and we're going to try to get it here in 2022," he said.

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However, Detroit needs more money to bring major sports events to the area, Wood said. 

"The issue with big events like the Super Bowl or the draft or the NCAA Final Four is you have to have capital committed to support the infrastructure and the marketing of the event when you go to bid against other cities," he said. "For the Super Bowl, you need to have north of $50 million in the bank before you can be a serious contender."

He said other states that Michigan has to compete against have tax revenues to support those kinds of events and the state's professional sports teams have been trying to get legislation passed that would put Michigan on a level playing field with them. Money spent would be replenished by the economic impact of events that come to the city, Wood said.

Detroit Free Press columnist Carol Cain served as a discussion's moderator

The trio said Detroit's comeback has helped attract national sporting events such as the upcoming Rocket Mortgage Classic, a PGA Tour tournament, but there is still work to be done.

"I think Detroit still has some challenges, but it's changing," Ilitch said. "And all of the events that we have in Detroit plant seeds and change perceptions."

Ilitch, whose family owns the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, co-chaired the campaign to bring Major League Baseball's All-Star week to Detroit in 2005.

It's estimated the city needs more than 5,000 additional hotel rooms in downtown Detroit to draw major sporting events to the city, according to Wood. 

But snagging a major sports event in the city can be a boon for the area, he said. For example, the NFL Draft could have a $200 million to $300 million economic impact on Detroit, Wood said.

"Sports is an important part of this community and probably one of the greatest sources of civic pride in Detroit," he said. "And everything we can do to support our sports teams and try to get these events to Detroit, everybody wins."

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

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