Empty seats reflect Detroit's economic woes


A festive holiday mood enveloped Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings entertained the Canadiens last night in one of those much anticipated Original Six matchups.


A festive holiday mood enveloped Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings entertained the Canadiens last night in one of those much anticipated Original Six matchups.

But, as the residents of Motor City sit down to Thanksgiving dinner today, the question is how much will they have to be thankful for down the road?

The Big Three automakers have been the lifeblood of the local economy, but they are hemorrhaging red ink. They have been rebuffed in their latest bid for a bailout from the U.S. government and the fear is that one or more of the iconic U.S. companies will go bankrupt. The economic woes aren't lost on the hockey players who toil in this city. On any given night, they see thousands of empty seats, but they know it's not personal.

"The one thing you realize is that passion for the Detroit Red Wings is still there," veteran forward Kris Draper said. "Unfortunately, the way the economy is going, especially with the auto industry, it's tough for families to come to games.

"Anywhere we go around town, people are very excited about the hockey team, and what we accomplished last year, but it's not feasible for fans to support us by coming to 41 games. But we understand it. It's a tough thing to say, but we know we have a lot of support in the city and in the state of Michigan."

There was a sellout last night with a large influx of fans from Canada. Officially, it was the Red Wings' sixth sellout in eight home games, but Chris Chelios, the defenceman who started his career in Montreal, said the numbers were misleading.

"We can tell when the games are really sold out because those are the games where we have a hard time getting tickets for family or friends," said Chelios, who is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered in an exhibition game in Montreal on Sept. 30.

"You'd love to see the fans be able to afford to come, but it's just not affordable," said Chelios, noting that one of the hopes coming out of the lockout was that ticket prices would come down.

"You notice the crowds are down. Hopefully tonight, because it's Montreal and a lot of people coming over the border, that will give us the extra 5,000 seats we've been missing for a lot of games. It's not a lack of the fans' interest; it's just the dollar."

Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions are proving that even the National Football League isn't recession-proof in this economy. They have had three games blacked out on local television because of unsold seats, but did manage to sell out today's Thanksgiving Day game, a tradition in this city that goes back to 1934.

The sellout means local fans who can't afford to buy tickets will be able to see the game on television, which may or may not be a good thing.

There is a debate on this side of the border over whether Detroit should continue to get a Thanksgiving date and the national TV exposure that comes with it. That debate has become louder in recent years because the Lions, who are 0-11 this season, aren't very good and this year's matchup against the 10-1 Tennessee Titans shapes up as a, well, turkey.

But Michael Hiestand, who writes about television for USA Today, suggested that it probably doesn't matter who plays. He noted the Lions have averaged an 11.9 rating in recent years, while games involving the Dallas Cowboys, a newer Thanksgiving tradition, average a 12.1 rating.



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