The Vicious Cycle of Tigers Games

Last Saturday I went to a Tigers game with two friends visiting from Ann Arbor.  As we exited Comerica Park, it was tough to see some of Detroit’s homeless clustered together and begging for money.  It was tough to recognize that they comprised most of the few black faces present in the midst of tens of thousands of white visitors.  And it was tough to see that for some of the visitors, these homeless faces were some of the only ones of Detroit they would see.

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As we turned right and continued up Woodward Avenue after the game, I correctly guessed some of the thoughts of one of my friends.  Like many others, and quite understandably, he was trying to make sense of his surroundings by piecing together the experiences he was currently having with the stories and media reports he had previously heard.  But if there is anything I have learned during the past three weeks, it’s that it’s nearly impossible to break down lifelong preconceptions of Detroit in a mere few hours before or after a Tigers game, let alone accurately understand it or make a judgment about it.

If most Michigan residents come into Detroit only to see sports or other entertainment events, many of the black Detroiters they encounter are probably the beggars outside of the venues, some of whom may seem intimidating.  And with the backdrop of numerous abandoned buildings and the (likely) wailing police sirens, who wouldn’t be scared of the city?

Any brief visit to Detroit, such as going to a Tigers game, will provide ample views of the undeniable effects of the economic emergency in the city.  As a result, these views are what most people first notice.  But what about the rest of the city?  Its people and culture?  Its politics?  Its history?  Many of these visitors won’t ever experience these deeper cultural gems nor will they encounter the many Detroiters in positive social and economic positions.

It’s a cycle of negative reinforcement – many visitors come to Detroit with certain negative preconceptions (that Detroiters are lazy, poor, violent, asking for handouts, etc.) and thus avoid spending substantial time in the city.  Their subsequent “Detroit experience” consists of driving through seemingly 3rd-world streets with abandoned buildings and interacting with homeless beggars and hardly anyone else.  Hence, they leave with their preconceptions reinforced, damaging Detroit’s reputation and revitalization efforts.

Detroit’s image matters.  This vicious cycle matters.  But can it be changed?  How?

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3 thoughts on “The Vicious Cycle of Tigers Games

  1. Very interesting post, Ray. I have also wondered about the many people who only visit Detroit to watch a sports game. I expect that most don’t get a chance to explore the city – probably just a night at a hotel, maybe a visit to a casino or a nice dinner. Sure, these people bring money into the city, but I suspect you were right when you said that these brief visits give them a very narrow-minded perspective that hurts the city in the long-run. I wonder if an initiative could be created to draw these sports-goers into other parts of the city (or if any initiatives exist already.) What if a ticket to the Tigers game include a discounted day pass to the Charles H. Wright history museum? What if the stadium offered free Tigers swag to families that got stamps on a “Passport to Detroit” with stops at places like the Guardian building and the RiverWalk? What if Eastern Market vendors set-up shop outside the game once a month? Now that I’m trying to think of ideas myself, they’re sounding a bit contrived, but maybe it’s better than nothing. And I’m sure someone smarter than me could think of a better way to give these people a better impression of Detroit.

    1. Eleanor, I don’t think your ideas sound contrived. I actually think they’re great ideas! I feel like a lot of the people who go to sporting events or shows downtown only see the negative images of the city, as Ray said in his post, so they may not even know about all the great places Detroit has to offer. If most suburbanites are like the ones I know, they probably won’t go out of their comfort zone, away from the vicinity of the stadiums and theatres, if the image of Detroit stays the way it is. But there will be some people who will take advantage of the incentives that you’re thinking of. It may only make a small difference, but I think it could have really great outcomes.

      And Ray, this was a great post! You’ve articulated a lot of ideas that I’ve been wondering about too.

    2. Eleanor –
      I agree with ‘lil speezy 🙂 Great ideas. And perhaps the city could go even further to draw people into other communities by having special events tied to the Tigers game and hold them in other parts of the city. For example, maybe the city could host something fun and Tigers-related on the Northwest side of town at the Northwest Activities community center and then advertise it during the Tigers games. The community center a great spot and visitors could get a chance to interact with local community parents (aka regular Detroiters!) and kids as they all play (or do whatever) together.

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