SBD/March 11, 2014/Franchises

Martha Ford Takes Over Lions Ownership, Bill Ford Jr. Will Remain In Charge Of Team

Bill Ford Jr. (r) is expected to stay in charge of the Lions under his mother's ownership
Martha Ford, the widow of late Lions Owner William Clay Ford Sr., will "take over ownership" of the franchise, though it "remains to be seen how directly involved" she will be, according to a front-page piece by Chris McCosky of the DETROIT NEWS. The expectation is Martha Ford will "run the team much like her husband did and allow her employees to do their jobs." Lions Vice Chair Bill Ford Jr. is expected to "continue as the face of ownership and be the primary family executive in charge of the team, something he had been doing the past few years as his father’s health declined." He has been Vice Chair since '95. That has "long been the vision of Ford Sr." He wanted the franchise "to remain with the family." The day-to-day operations "will continue to be run by" President Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew. NFL officials and Commissioner Roger Goodell have "worked with franchises to maintain the consistency of family ownership, helping franchises remain with families in Pittsburgh, as well as Chicago, Oakland and Tennessee." The Fords "faced a potential tax" of at least 40% of the Lions' estimated $900M value. Ford Sr. by passing his ownership share to his wife "put off paying estate tax as long as Martha Ford remains alive" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/11). ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein noted Ford Jr. will remain as the team's vice chair instead of "having a grander title," but this transition "could offer him a chance to do more with the Lions." He has the "chance to help shape the Lions in his own image as long as he can do so with the blessing" of his mother. Yet the surviving Fords can "change some of how they run the Lions and perhaps for the better" (ESPN.com, 3/10).

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: In Detroit, Dave Birkett notes Ford Jr. has "assisted with coaching searches going back to Bobby Ross in 1997 and he suggested Matt Millen as a possible general manager years before Millen was hired" in '01. But he "deferred to his father on major decisions and has stayed mostly in the background publicly over the last 19 years." Still, several current and former Lions players and execs said that they "see similarities in the management styles of father and son, not the least of which is a belief to let people do the jobs they are hired for." Lions LB Stephen Tulloch said of Ford Jr., "He’s always around. His office is upstairs on the second floor. Like anything else, he’s there just to kind of show his face and shake the players’ hands and talk to the players. But he stays out of the football decisions. He lets Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand pretty much run the operation and run things from a football standpoint" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/11). Also in Detroit, Drew Sharp in a front-page piece notes Ford Jr. "always respectfully deferred to his father when asked about his personal thoughts regarding the direction of the Lions." There likely "won't be any dramatic atmospheric changes within the overall workplace." But the "only change that matters to fans is whether Ford Jr. will be less tolerant of poor performance within the team's executive branch." Sharp: "Is he more willing to listen to outside counsel? And perhaps most important, can Ford Jr. distinguish between good business and good friendships?" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/11).

MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A DETROIT NEWS editorial states Ford Sr. was an "admirable representative who not only upheld the Ford legacy, but expanded it." He will be remembered "most not for his contribution to making automobiles, but rather as owner of the Detroit Lions." After moving the Lions to the Pontiac Silverdome, Ford "brought the team back downtown, never threatening to move the Lions to another state, a tactic employed too often by other sports franchise owners looking for public subsidies." That was "indicative of how he saw his family's role" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/11). Former NFLer Jason Hanson said of Ford Sr., "He was interested enough in the guys on his team. ... We weren't a product to him, we were people" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/11).
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