Pat Caputo: A Wish, Not Evidence, The Hope For Sheila Ford Hamp As Lions' Principal Owner

While that is certainly an impressive amount of equity ($4.5 million in 1963 is roughly $54 million today), the Lions are the second-least valuable NFL franchise ahead of only the Buffalo Bills, who are in a much smaller market.

Pat Caputo
June 23, 2020 - 1:24 pm
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This was trending on Twitter shortly after it was announced Martha Ford was stepping down as Lions’ principal owner:

“Sell The Team.”

It, of course, is not happening. She is being replaced by her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp.

There is not much of a track record in professional sports nor business involving Ford Hamp other than she has been at her mother’s side constantly since William Clay Ford Sr. died in 2014, and been a key part of the Lions’ decision making process, which has been typically spotty.

Ford Sr. bought out his partners to become sole owner of the Lions in late 1963 for $4.5 million. The franchise, according to Forbes in September, is worth $1.9 billion.

While that is certainly an impressive amount of equity ($4.5 million in 1963 is roughly $54 million today), the Lions are the second-least valuable NFL franchise ahead of only the Buffalo Bills, who are in a much smaller market.

So there is a big challenge ahead for Ford Hamp, both on the field and in regard to business.

The Lions have often simply been referred to as being in the hands of “The Fords,” perhaps because Ford Motor Co. chairman William Clay Ford Jr. had such a prominent role for many years, which has obviously dwindled.

It’s not an ownership situation that invokes much confidence in the Lions. Arguably, no professional sports franchise has had performed worse during this long span.

The Lions, infamously, have won just one playoff game and posted mostly losing seasons. They have had truly great players such as Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, but their departures were acrimonious and didn’t result in any remotely close to resembling championships.

The Fords have tried many different things. Ford Sr. hired a Super Bowl winning coach, Don McCafferty. He had one losing season for the Lions and died before the next, suffering a heart attack while mowing his lawn. Bobby Ross won a national title at Georgia Tech and took the Chargers to the Super Bowl. He left town crying, literally, in the middle of a season.

The Lions gave up and coming coaching star Steve Mariucci the largest contract ever at the time for an NFL head coach - and he hasn’t coached since being fired by the Lions after a particularly dreadful performance on Thanksgiving Day..

The Fords got really bold when they hired Matt Millen out of the broadcast booth, a move which not only failed, but spectacularly. Then his contract was extended.

Martha Ford received many kudos when she fired general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand after a 1-7 start in 2015 and hired family accountant Rod Wood as team president, but it’s been mostly disappointments since.

Ultimately, the organization spun its wheels under her principal ownership. The team showed its most promise with an 11-5 season her initial year with coach Jim Caldwell, but has fluttered in mediocrity since. Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia should have been the answer, but haven’t been. 

Last season the not-so-dynamic duo survived a 3-12-1 season during which little went right. The Lions nonetheless stayed the course.

It was the first time we heard from Ford Hamp publicly. Well, sort of. It was with this quote in a mostly background meeting with beat writers: "(Changing coaches) would have been the popular choice, the popular decision, and we knew that. But as I say, we’re doing what is right for the organization.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for Ford Hamp. She has been close to it, watching and, hopefully, learning.

However, there is little tangible evidence to suggest she will, indeed, get it right.

But there is a suggestion here, one that undoubtedly won’t sit well with many Lions’ fans.

Give her a chance.

For one thing, you never know. Ford Hamp might have the feel her father and mother didn’t have at the helm.

For another, it’s a more practical approach to hope she does well.

Because the Fords, well, they aren’t selling the team.​