ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It started with focus groups and surveys. Then, when Detroit Lions team president Rod Wood took over in his new role last season, he started investigating what hiring cheerleaders would mean for the organization.
After seeing the data from surveys, several months ago Wood went to the ownership group -- led by Martha Ford -- and asked what they thought. Wood wouldn’t say whether or not it was a tough sell to the Ford family, which had never employed cheerleaders before, but they saw the merits of it.
“It was part of a process explaining how we would go about it and how it would be integrated in the in-game presentation and what we would use the team to do representing us out in the community,” Wood said. “Not just at the game but as a representative of the organization at charitable events, working with sponsors and once you laid the whole thing out, it was a decision that we made.”
Don't expect the cheerleaders to have too prominent a presence, though. Based on Wood's comments, they will be part of the in-game experience, not their own entity like the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Wood said the team has made no decisions on cheerleader calendars or anything like that.
Wood said he spoke with multiple teams that employ cheerleaders in coming up with the plan, although he declined to name which teams he spoke with.
The cheerleaders will not be employed by the Lions, but rather an affiliate of the organization, Ford Field Management. They will not be full-time employees, but considered part-time or seasonal employees. The Lions would not divulge the salary of the cheerleaders. At least for the first year, it will be an all-female team. Wood said they had not had many discussions about the possibility of a co-ed team, but that the franchise has not ruled it out in the future. Just for the first season.
Then, the Lions will do more focus groups to see how it went.
“I know we want them to be enhancing the in-game entertainment experience and being the great representatives of the team out in the community,” Wood said. “Beyond that, we’re not trying to compete with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders or any other of the other organizations that might have cheerleaders as part of their brand.
“They are going to be part of our overall experience, not above and beyond.”
Wood knows this was not a unanimous preference from fans, but the feedback he received was “overwhelmingly supporting this.”
“I suspect there are going to be some people that second-guess it and we’ll deal with that when it happens,” Wood said. “But so far not overwhelmingly negative.”