Why Do the Detroit Lions Always Play on Thanksgiving?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team was founded in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth wasn’t quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL, so Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934. Although the new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle to the Detroit Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, Richards had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide. The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL’s Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.