Lions furloughing while ticket sales spike

In discussing the Detroit Lions' reported decision to furlough employees for two weeks, I suggested the team's revenues -- via ticket sales and corporate sponsorships -- have probably taken a hit during the lockout. A few of you have pointed out that, in fact, the Lions have publicly stated their season-ticket sales have risen substantially this offseason.

Here's what team president Tom Lewand said earlier this month, according to Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News: "We are significantly ahead of where we were last year and last year we experienced significant growth over 2009. The trend has continued and even accelerated in 2011 vs. 2010. We are up significantly in new ticket sales and we're up also significantly in our overall season-ticket base with renewals on existing season-ticket holders."

We should be careful to read that statement with context. Season tickets are only a portion of an NFL team's revenues. The biggest stream comes from a television rights contract that the NFL Players Association has successfully disputed in federal court. Corporate sponsorship, which Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy suggested in March would decrease during the lockout, represents another stream.

So we can't say with certainty that the Lions' overall revenues in May 2011 are ahead of where they were in 2011. But it sure doesn't look good when the team president speaks openly about a growth in ticket sales, presumably to raise the urgency to purchase among undecided customers, while he is also presiding over furloughs.

It's pretty clear the Lions were hoping this decision didn't make its way into the public realm. In a blog post, NFL writer Jarrett Bell of USA Today wrote that he asked a Lions spokesman last week about lockout-related staffing issues.

The spokesman forwarded an article about the team's season-ticket sales along with a statement that read: "Since the end of last season our focus has been, and will continue to be, on comprehensive preparations for playing the 2011 season. The only way to ensure that those preparations are put into action for the benefit of our fans, our players and our organization is to reach agreement through negotiations at the bargaining table."

That response hardly indicated that furloughs were under way. Working Tuesday from the NFL spring owners meeting in Indianapolis, Bell tweeted: "Lions prez Tom Lewand told me he has no obligation to explain cutbacks to public that buys tickets and lends taxpayer support."

Again, the Lions aren't the only team engaged in such practices. And in truth, their ticket sales had nowhere to go but up after the 0-16 season in 2008. But it's a rotten deal, no matter how you look at it.