Lions rebuild their business department

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Detroit – — The Lions hope changes to the personnel staff this offseason soon will lead to more consistent success.

But even if the team doesn’t start winning more, the franchise has taken several steps to becoming a better business.

Since last August, at least seven of the top decision-makers for their respective business departments — including marketing, community relations and information technology — are no longer employed by the Lions. One, former vice president of partnerships Wade Martin, left willingly for a job elsewhere.

That group doesn’t include football executives like general manager Martin Mayhew, vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White or senior vice president of football administration Cedric Saunders.

It also doesn’t include lower-level employees on the business side who have been terminated.

And within the restructuring of the business departments, the Lions have made one new executive-level hire this offseason, choosing instead to promote internally to replace some of the bosses no longer employed in Allen Park — moves that could save the team money and also indicate there might have been redundant positions under the past regime.

New president Rod Wood — he replaced the fired Tom Lewand — said last month he believes some of the recent changes will help the team increase revenue that eventually can be reinvested back into the football team.

“We’re trying to bring in, I think, a team that can maximize the potential of the Lions franchise, both locally in Detroit and to take advantage of the NFL sponsorships nationally,” he said.

Lions officials haven’t shared many details, but they are hoping to make considerable improvements to Ford Field by 2017.

“Ford Field is a great facility, but it’s now getting into its mid-teens in terms of age,” Wood said. “There’s things that we need to continue to do to reinvest in the property, both to keep it relevant and I think to keep our fans engaged and coming to the games.”

In explaining the reason for a hike in season ticket prices, Wood said methodical price increases are “so that we’re at least competitive with the other teams in terms of total revenue.”

Although officials don’t release any financial records, Forbes ranked the Lions 30th in current value among NFL teams, and are consistently near the bottom of the business magazine’s rankings.

“We want to continue to grow our revenue,” Wood said during Super Bowl week. “One of the things is we have to compete both on the field and off the field with all the other teams. We need revenue to do that.”

In February, Wood lauded the promotion of Kelly Kozole, senior vice president of business development, as a move that would create a more coordinated effort on the business side. Kozole is in charge of marketing, events, partnerships and ticketing, among other areas.

The only new hire this offseason was Bill Hawker, who takes over as vice president of corporate partnerships. Hawker previously worked for the Packers and Bears.

“He’s done a great job of building sponsorships with those other two franchises and particularly with the Packers,” Wood said. “When you think about how small their market is relative to Detroit, and the fact that they don’t have naming rights at the stadium because of Lambeau Field, they don’t have naming rights at their practice facility and what they’ve been able to build in terms of partnerships and sponsorships is very enviable.

“If Bill can bring some of that expertise to the Lions, it just increases our local revenue, which allows us to continue to reinvest back into the team, into our facilities and everything else.”