When he was 22 years old, Tim Klisz won a coin toss. His uncle Jerry had one extra ticket to the Detroit Lions playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, and Klisz had a 50-50 chance of beating his brother for the chance to attend the game. That was in 1992, and his brother hasn’t completely forgiven him for it. It was the last time the Detroit Lions played in a playoff game. The last time the Lions won the NFL championship was 1957.

Record sales fueled by 67 years of nostalgia

It’s been so long since the Lions won a playoff game that many longtime fans have given up or gone to their graves without seeing a win. Like many others at the playoff game and at home, the Klisz brothers are cheering for lost loved ones, wishing they could witness these long-awaited victories. All over Michigan and the rest of the country as former Michiganders celebrate them, the remarkable playoff run for the Detroit Lions has spurred pride, nostalgia—and a Honolulu Blue wave of sales.

Last week, Klisz attended the Lions’s second playoff game of the season and brought his brother with him. The brothers shouted their hearts out, adding to the record-breaking 134.8 decibel din at the Lions’s nail-biting victory over Tampa Bay to advance to the conference championship. The Klisz brothers cheered in memory of their grandfather, who passed away in 2007, and their uncle, who died in 1996. Since then, Tim, now 55,  has held season tickets his whole adult life

“The watch party in heaven is really crowded,” says Klisz, with “deceased fathers, brothers, uncles, grandpas up there, watching and rooting them on.” Although he wishes his uncle and grandfather could join him at Ford Field, he now brings his daughter to games with him. She wasn’t a huge fan at first, but now, says Klisz, “she has this bright silver outfit that she got at Target.”

She’s not the only one stocking up on Lions merch for the first time. Detroit-based jewelry maker Rebel Nell employs at-risk women to create one-of-a-kind items made from historical artifacts. In 2022, they launched a partnership with the Lions to produce a limited run of jewelry that incorporated fabric from warm-up jackets worn by the Detroit Lions players during the 1950s to 1970s, including the 1957 national championship-winning team.

Amy Peterson, cofounder and CEO of Rebel Nell, says that at its launch, the Lions jacket jewelry line “was met with mediocre success.” But since the red-hot Lions started winning playoff games, “it’s skyrocketed,” she says. Sales have increased 63% over last January, says Peterson, which “can be completely attributed to the success of the Lions. Just to have that piece of history that we’re able to share with the fans, I think, is really special.”

Not all those fans are based in Detroit, either. Plenty of former Michiganders are clamoring for Lions merchandise. And they’re not alone: Sports betting site Bet Online geotagged betting data from more than 60,000 tweets to show that 37 states are now rooting for the Lions to win. On Monday, January 22, the New York Post dubbed the Lions “The Real America’s Team,” followed quickly by Slate, Axios, USA Today, and others

Brian Bradley is coowner of Three Thirteen, a Detroit-based sports apparel shop. He’s having a hard time keeping Lions apparel on the shelves, especially their “Detroit Raised Me” series, which is especially popular with Detroiters who’ve moved away. “People come here a lot of times to get apparel to take back home as former Detroiters,” he says.

Bradley has never seen anything like the passionate support of today’s Lions. “The energy right now is absolutely insane,” he says. “We have people coming in here, like, ‘Man, I wish my dad was here to see this or my mom was here to see this. We’ve been watching the Lions for so long and now it’s finally happened.”

Greg Every’s three Fanatic U locations, as well as his online store, have also completely sold out of Lions merchandise several times this year. He’s kept himself and his employees working overtime restocking and packaging items for shipping around the world and in his three retail stores. Fanatic U sold out of its last batch of Lions jerseys in a week and a half. He’s doing all he can to keep up with demand. “Last week, I thought I ordered too many,” he says, “but just the way people are going crazy right now, it’s probably going to be all right. I guess. It’s been crazy. It’s been nuts.”

$50 million in one day

All that merchandise adds up to a big revenue increase for the Lions franchise. Frequently at the bottom of the league in ticket and merchandise sales, this year’s surge has brought on a jump in value for the team. In Sportico’s annual NFL franchise market value report, the Lions topped the league in 2023, with a whopping 43% increase in franchise value. Crain’s Detroit Business reported that the first Lions playoff game in 32 years, which took place on Sunday, January 14, brought $20 million into the city. Visit Detroit estimated that the Lions-Buccaneers game brought  more than $50 million in economic impact for that one night alone: “on par with the likes of Taylor Swift,” according to a Visit Detroit spokesperson. (It’s estimated that Swift’s two Detroit shows in June 2023 brought in around $2 million in related tourism expenses)

Ticket prices had been on a rise even before the Lions made the playoffs, with regular season single-game ticket prices jumping 100% from the 2022 to the 2023 season, with the average real market value of Lions home tickets escalating from $147 in 2022 to $302, according to USA Today, a jump of more than 100%. On Sunday, January 21, just before the Tampa Bay-Detroit game at Ford Field, the average resale ticket price was $1,127 per seat, with the least expensive option being $557, according to data that SeatGeek shared with TheStreet.

That makes LaDawn Tyler’s decision to splurge on a pair of tickets nine rows back from the goal posts almost frugal. She figured, “it’s the opportunity to see something that would possibly never be able to see again.” Tyler paid a friend just over of $1,000 for her season tickets to the Lions-Buccaneers game, figuring, she says, “well, now I know where my tax return is going.” She and fiancé Phil Bruck spent about $60 on food and drinks ahead of the game, then bought T-shirts, hats, and lanyards at the stadium.

For Tyler, the decision was not lightly made. “You have to really weigh that option and ask ‘What is it going to cost me and how long is it going to take me to pay?’” she says. In the end, she bought the tickets in honor of her grandfather, who she wishes could have seen the game, and an old friend who used to watch the Lions on TV with her, but who passed away during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. “Just to be able to be there and be that representation” for her grandfather and her friend, she says, “meant I think the whole world to me and meant a whole lot to my fiancé.”

The boost in sales has been a windfall for many Detroit businesses. Fans have flocked to downtown even if they don’t have game tickets. The official Detroit Lions watch party at Ford Field for the 49ers game sold out its 20,000 $20 seats in less than twelve hours. At downtown bars, viewers have packed into bars to share in the historic moment, a boon for a normally slow month. Between the cold weather and the lack of tourism, January is typically a painfully slow month for bars in Detroit. At Firebird Tavern just a couple of blocks from Ford Field, coowner Tony Piraino says that “the Lions have turned the worst month on our calendar, completely turned it around. We’re going to have an average potentially even better than our best January we’ve ever had,” including the years when the North American International Auto Show brought droves of visitors to Detroit in January. He estimates that sales at Firebird are up 50 to 55% over last January.

At Tommy’s Detroit Bar, owner Tom Burelle agrees. The bar is across the street from the former site of Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings played until 2017. “Statistically, we’ve been better than last year,” Burelle says. “We haven’t seen days like that since the Red Wings were across the street.”

The buzz is electric, and contagious, says Burelle. “Just watching how people were at the bar and at Ford Field,” he says, “if we could have had another home game, imagine what that would have done for the city. So far, the Lions and the City of Detroit have been mum on potential plans for Super Bowl watch parties, perhaps unwilling to risk jinxing the team. That said, the last time that the Detroit Lions faced off against San Francisco in a playoff game on the road was in 1957. The Lions beat the 49ers and went on to win the national championship—though not the Super Bowl, as the Super Bowl only started in 1966.

A city and a team that needs the win

Just as important to Burelle and the other Lions fans, though, is the emotional tide lifting up Detroiters’ spirits. After generations of Lions losses and economic upheaval, Burelle and many Detroiters are more than ready for some wins. Last week, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith raised hackles in Detroit by declaring that Detroit  was ”on a respirator as a city,” despite the city’s resurgence in recent years. Realty analytics firm CoreLogic noted that in November 2023, Detroit’s real estate market was the fastest-appreciating metro area in the country, edging out Miami for the top spot.

The critics aren’t fazing Burelle. He’s seen his share of ups and downs, economically and in sports fandom.“ I’ve been a season ticket holder for 37 years,” he says, “So I’ve seen the worst of it. Just watching how it’s brought everybody together and seeing what it’s done for the city is amazing.”

Although Kilsz’s grandfather and uncle and Tyler’s friend Harvey and her grandfather might not be around to appreciate the long-awaited Lions wins, Tyler and Klisz, along with thousands of others across the country are banking on one or two more Lions wins. Klisz is continuing his family’s legacy, happy to pony up what might be a substantial increase in season ticket costs. The Lions organization upped season ticket prices even before the playoffs began, sending out renewal notices to season ticket holders in December 2023 with an average increase of 36%, according to MLive. Says Klisz, “Every month that credit card gets hit for six tickets plus parking.” As for selling them, though? “I never even thought about it for a half a second. I’m a diehard.”

Tyler may attend another game or two next year. This magical winning season has brought her and her father together, she says, as they’ve bonded over their shared memories of her grandfather and traded statistics and predictions for each game. The real value, says Tyler, is that “my father finally realized that after all these years, he had another Lions fan in the family.”

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