Detroit sports city: Lions and Tigers and hope?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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What a huge week for Detroit. In the span of a few days, the Lions have won a Monday Night Football game — and the Tigers will play in three playoff games — all in the heart of Detroit. What is more, to get here, the Tigers beat the Yankees in the American League Division Series — and the up-and-coming Detroit Lions are off to a terrific 5-0 start.

All of a sudden, Detroit is the place to be.

This is a big deal.

If any American city could use the morale boost, it would be Detroit. The economy has been hurting since the auto industry tanked, and the bailouts of 2008 deflated morale even more.

That same year, the Lions earned the dubious distinction of being the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. And the scandal-plagued tenure of former mayor Kwame Kilpartick was merely the icing on the cake.

The city was broke and dangerous; a few short years ago, it was joked that the “run-and-shoot” wasn’t just the Lions’ offensive scheme — it what you did to get home alive from a game.

Today, however, there is excitement in the air, and some observers are hoping that sports can boost the city’s morale.

It is unclear whether or not successful sports franchises ever actually help spur economic growth — but there is little doubt the Lions and Tigers have boosted civic pride and morale in Motown — at least, according to the politically-minded Michiganders I talked to today.

“… The Lions and Tigers’ (and Red Wings’) success reaffirms and reinforces our Detroit community’s dedication to defying the odds and doubters,” emailed Rep. Thad McCotter — adding that their success on the field would “show the world a resilient Motor City that is alive and kickin’, hittin’ tacklin’ and rockin’.”

Saul Anuzis, a prominent Michigan Republican, echoed McCotter’s sentiments, saying: “It has fired up Detroit and Michigan as a whole. It part of our comeback.”

At least part of the reason for the excitement is that the baseball and football stadiums are both now located in the heart of downtown Detroit. As Yahoo! Sports noted of the Lions’ new stadium,

This is downtown Detroit in all its rough and tumble beauty, a modern facility set up in the heart of a past-its-prime-metropolis. And it was put there on purpose. The Lions used to play on the outskirts of Pontiac, about 25 miles north of here, in a boring, empty location whose sole purpose was to be close to the wealthy. The NFL loves those places.

Melanie Hall, a web designer from Lansing (who also produces my podcast) agrees that the downtown location is key. “With the stadiums across the street from each other,” she said, “they are boosting the energy, and the economy in the area.”

The hope, of course, is that the success on the field translates into success off the field. “Things have already been looking up with several key business leaders moving thousands of workers to downtown Detroit,” says Alex Linebrink, an entrepreneur in Detroit. “When you combine that influx of fresh, young, and energetic new workers and residents with three amazing sports teams — don’t forget the Red Wings! — you get pure energetic optimism.”

“Fans across the state are excited and showing their team spirit with shirts, flags and other gear announcing their pride,” adds Hall.

No matter where your sports loyalties lie, it’s hard not to root for Detroit this year.