William Clay Ford, Jr. has made a positive and lasting impact on the Detroit Lions since assuming his post of vice chairman in February 1995. He remains focused not only on creating a winner in the present, but on ensuring success well into the 21st century—both on and off the field.
Ford shares his father’s commitment and devotion to the Lions and has a burning passion to win. He wants nothing less than for the Lions to become a premier franchise in the National Football League, and knows that elite status includes delivering a championship to Lions fans.
“Winning is a team effort, and our coaching staff, personnel department and front office work collaboratively toward that goal.
“I am very encouraged by the make-up of our team and what we have done to supplement the roster this off-season,” continued Ford. “While we obviously have some of the best young talent in the game in Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, I believe we made the necessary moves this off-season to surround those players with even more talent. I’m especially encouraged by some of our free agent signings, including Glover Quin and Reggie Bush, both of whom had excellent off-seasons.
“I am genuinely excited for this season,” Ford said. “I believe in our team and its ability to compete each and every week. While I am always optimistic entering a new year, I am even more confident this season.”
To see Ford’s influence off the field, one has to look no further than Ford Field in downtown Detroit and the team’s headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park. Both are considered among the best facilities in all of sports, and were shaped by Ford’s resolve for the Lions to be a leader in the NFL.
Ford’s dedication and commitment to the fans was never more evident than when he spearheaded the team’s stadium negotiations that led to the 1996 decision to build Ford Field. Due largely to his determination and perseverance, the Lions struck a deal with the city of Detroit and Wayne County that established the foundation for the team to return to downtown Detroit in 2002.
Along with moving the Lions to downtown Detroit, Ford has provided a world-class practice facility to complement the team’s stadium project. The $36 million Allen Park facility, which opened in April 2002, has been universally praised as one of the best facilities in the NFL. Its state-of-the-art football facilities—including an indoor practice facility with a regulation-size field—provide the ideal training center for NFL players and coaches.
In addition to developing new homes for the team to practice at and play in, Ford played a vital role in Detroit’s bid for Super Bowl XL. Through his leadership, the Ford family, the Detroit Lions and Ford Motor Company were integral in Detroit’s hosting of Super Bowl XL, which exceeded expectations. Overall, Super Bowl XL generated a $260 million economic impact, including $100 million in downtown improvements, $10 million in emerging businesses—the most in Super Bowl history—and $6 million in the NFL/Boys & Girls Club Youth Education Town, the largest in the country.
Detroit’s hosting of Super Bowl XL in February 2006 received extraordinary reviews from the international community, and is perhaps the finest moment in Ford’s vision to build a stadium in downtown Detroit.
FAN ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNITY INVESTMENT
Ford continually pushes for the Lions and Ford Field to improve fan engagement and become an even greater benefit to the community and its economic growth.
According to Ford, nothing impacts the organization more than the game-day stadium experience realized by Lions’ fans at every home game.
“Their support and impact on the game has created a home-field advantage that is real and absolutely makes a difference for our football team,” Ford said. “We have all seen and experienced how that impact has grown over the years to a point where, in each of the last two seasons, Ford Field was as loud and intimidating as any stadium in the NFL.
“Besides winning, creating a unique and special game-day environment for our fans is critically important. We want our fans to have an impact on the game, and we want them to know they have an impact on the game. They help us win, and that’s the best compliment a fan can receive.”
In Ford’s 18 years in his current role, he has helped the Lions take major steps forward on several fronts. Ford has strongly supported active community outreach programs, which have been recognized as the best of any team in all of professional sports. Several initiatives, such as Detroit Lions Charities, have served Detroit and the state of Michigan.
In September 2012, the Lions began a new community initiative—Living for the City—that has reshaped the club’s impact to improve the lives of Detroiters. The team’s transformational approach focuses on the belief that healthy families are the backbone of a healthy community, and the Lions have targeted partnerships—with an emphasis on health wellness and development—that have the most potential to support Detroit’s resurgence.
“It’s critically important that we give back to our city and our region,” said Ford. “We must continue to invest in the city of Detroit and its people. It’s not an option, it’s an obligation, and our Living for the City initiative is a wonderful example of our commitment.
“We are privileged to be in a position to make a positive difference in our community, and we cherish that opportunity.”
Community involvement does not stop with the team’s community outreach and charitable contributions, as Ford also emphasizes the importance in growing the game of football and the development of youth. The Detroit Lions Youth Football program is one of the most extensive youth sports programs operated by a professional sports team. From numerous youth camps held statewide to coaching clinics, the goal of the program is to impact children’s lives on and off the field through the game. Ford believes it is valuable to grow interest in football among youths, to provide instruction in player safety and to assist in the development of youth coaches.
Under Ford’s direction, the team has launched one of the most aggressive business operations in all of sports. Many elements to this are derived primarily from events held at Ford Field, and the benefits generated from both Lions games and other ancillary events. Ford ensures that every aspect of the team’s business operations ultimately focuses on the impact it has on the Lions’ ability to win.
Over the years Ford’s leadership has generated several key business initiatives. Allowing fans greater opportunities to attend Lions games has always been a priority for the Ford family, and that includes offering several fan-friendly ticket options that enable a larger number of fans to experience the Lions and the NFL in person.
In 2009 the team introduced comprehensive changes to its brand that include a new, fierce-looking logo and other unique branding elements. That same year the organization revamped Lions merchandise operations with a strong emphasis on improving customer service.
Another area in which Ford emphasizes progressive growth includes digital and social media, which allows the team to connect with and communicate directly with its fans. Shortly after Ford assumed his role with the club, the Lions became one of the first professional sports teams to launch its own website, Detroitlions.com. Today, the Lions reach and engage with millions of fans through multiple digital platforms and social media outlets.
The team also entered into a partnership with CBS Radio, a relationship it extended in 2009 for the Lions’ radio broadcast rights, and started production on weekly radio and television shows that air throughout the season.
In other past roles within the NFL structure, Ford also served on the NFL’s Finance Committee and NFL Properties Committee.
FORD FIELD ENTERTAINMENT IMPACT
Besides football, Ford Field now hosts some of the largest sports and entertainment events in the nation.
It has hosted two of the biggest events in the history of college athletics. In 2009 Ford Field hosted the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, a first for downtown Detroit. The event shattered tournament attendance records, provided metro Detroit with a $30 million to $50 million economic boost and provided a number of community outreach initiatives that will have a lasting impact on the city. One of those legacy outreach programs a established early learning and literacy centers in the community. Ford Field also had been the host site for the Midwest Regional Finals in March 2008, which broke NCAA regional and preliminary round attendance records, with more than 57,000 people attending each session.
In April 2010, the focus was again on Ford Field as Detroit hosted the NCAA Men’s Hockey Frozen Four. In doing so, Ford Field became the first venue in NCAA history to host the Final Four and the Frozen Four in back-to-back years. The Frozen Four at Ford Field generated record crowds and established a new indoor hockey world attendance record.
Since its opening in 2002, Ford Field has hosted some of the biggest concert events each year and is one of the finest large-scale stadium concert venues in the United States.
OFF THE FIELD
Though football remains a passion for Ford, his father and his family, his top priority continues to be in serving as Ford Motor Company’s executive chairman. His current role is a professional and personal commitment, as he leads the company founded by his great-grandfather, American automotive pioneer Henry Ford. A member of the board of directors since 1988, he assumed the role of chairman of the board January 1, 1999. He also served as chief executive officer from October 2001 through September 2006. Additionally, he serves as chairman of the board’s Finance Committee and as a member of the Sustainability Committee.
Among his many outside leadership roles, Ford serves on the board of trustees of The Henry Ford, as chairman of the Detroit Economic Club and chairman of the New Michigan Initiative Committee. He is also a member of the board of directors of eBay.
Born in Detroit in 1957, Ford is an avid fly-fisherman and car enthusiast, enjoys playing hockey and tennis, and is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. In his spare time, Ford competes in pond hockey tournaments, and his team has claimed the USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championship in past years. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University and a master of science degree in management as an Alfred P. Sloan fellow from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The appointment was made public Thursday, as the Lions prepared to play their second preseason game against the Browns
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