For many, the day after Christmas is reserved for travel, shopping, and putting together toys the kids received the day before. If you live around the Great Lakes, thanks to the organizers of the Quick Lane Bowl, your December 26th plans from here on out are changed!
The 2014 Quick Lane Bowl played its inaugural game on December 26th at Ford Field in Detroit in front of an announced crowd of 23,876. The matchup annually pairs opponents from the ACC and Big Ten, with the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights and University of North Carolina Tar Heels filling the bill in 2014. The sponsor, Quick Lane Tire & Auto Centers, may not be a household name, but the auto shop brand is part of Ford Motor Company. The Quick Lane Bowl is one of five new games being played in the 2014-15 bowl season and while it has no affiliation with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl or Motor City Bowl previously played in Detroit, it does inherit the traditional December 26th scheduling. When the Quick Lane Bowl was announced, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl briefly considered playing their game across the street at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, but the plan never materialized as the game has been cancelled indefinitely.
Ford Field is an indoor stadium in downtown Detroit and is the home of the Detroit Lions. It opened in 2002 and the capacity shifts from 65,000-70,000 for football and up to a maximum of 80,000 for basketball. The facility’s interior resembles Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but the exterior of Ford Field is strikingly unique as the design incorporates a six-story former Hudson’s warehouse, which was constructed in the 1920’s.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The star of the food and beverage selection at the Quick Lane Bowl is the "Battle of the Dogs." Fans could choose from the Rutgers Dog, with roasted potatoes, sautéed onion and peppers, or the Carolina Dog, with pulled pork and barbecue sauce. Each was $7.50 and sales were tracked to see who has the best "dog in the race." Spoiler alert: Carolina stood supreme! Hopefully this will be a tradition that is continued at the Quick Lane Bowl.
Standard fare and prices are consistent with Lions home games. At the Poletown Sausage outlet, hot dogs are $6.25 and kielbasa, bratwurst, and Italian sausage are $7.25. The signature Detroit style foot long Coney dog, complete with Coney sauce, fries, and toppings, can feed a small army and is $15.
Drinks and snacks are also similar to NFL prices, with chips and Doritos going for $4 a bag, bottled water for $5, and a domestic draft beer for $9. Bottomless popcorn ($8.50) and soda in a souvenir ($7.50) are easy favorites for those at the game with kids.
An Original Big Boy concession area is available for those looking for something simple and nostalgic. The original Big Boy double decker is available for $6.50, and is one of the best values in the stadium. Also available here is the Slim Jim ($7) and a grilled chicken breast sandwich. Pair your Big Boy with a milkshake ($5.50) and crispy French fries ($6) and thank me later.
Craft beer drinkers can rejoice with a half dozen taps available at the Turf Tavern. In an effort to incorporate local fare, Streats offers local foods, such as Dearborn brand meats, as well as a few gluten-free options. The star of gourmet eats at Ford Field is Hastings Pretzel Palace. With five different pretzel creations to choose from ($7), it is impossible to go wrong, but the apple cinnamon option is quite tasty.
With only one third of the seats filled for the 2014 game, Ford Field still kept a majority of the concession outlets open to fans, which resulted in almost non-existent lines throughout the game. Closed were the Charlie Sanders Barbecue and Paradise Delis options. But the Quick Lane Bowl was not short on quality options.
Ford Field appears to have paid homage to the Pontiac Silverdome with some of its design options. The new home of the Detroit Lions has an industrial feel to it, complete with frosted windows, steel beams, and bulging silver colored ductwork. These features not only offer natural lighting to shine in, but give the feel of playing a football game in an automotive factory, the backbone of the area, but in a modern facility with the amenities, sightlines, and intimate seating of a top class sports facility.
Two primary seating concourses surround the field which makes even the farthest placed seat feel close to the action on the field. With the exception of sections 200-214, 226-235, and 330-332, all seats are considered 'general seating.' Suites are on the top level of Ford Field, contributing to the up close feel of the standard seating options.
The club seats can be picked out as they are silver and the only non-blue seats in the building. Each seat is angled towards the field and come equipped with cup holders and are comfortable in width and support.
Gates C and E are on Montcalm Street and provide entry to the upper concourse. All other gates enter directly to the main concourse.
The open design of the main concourse may be the most underrated feature of Ford Field. Fans can be in line for a concession and still see the field of play, as opposed to the concessions being located through a tunnel and on the outer ring of the concourse. The top row of the lower level opens directly to the main concourse, offering wide angle sight throughout the stadium.
In all, with both concourses feeling so close to the field, there is not a bad seat in the facility. The club seats in sections 205-209 make you feel like you are watching the game from the same view you would get on a television and may be among the best view and most comfortable in college football. Sections 101-111, 202-211 face the field and are on the home team sideline. Sections 315 and 316 are in the east end zone on the south side and appear to have less than optimal sightlines and feel a tad cramped under the building ceilings. The same can be said for sections 346 and 347 in the west end zone on the south side.
A small Quick Lane Bowl logo dons midfield and stretches between the 45 yard lines. On the west end, 'Carolina' is spelled out in Tar Heel Blue and 'Rutgers' is on the east end in their scarlet red color. North Carolina, the ACC representative, was stationed on the home sideline with their fans and Rutgers was on the visitors side.
Most suites appeared to be dark for the Quick Lane Bowl as most fans were centered near midfield and spread throughout the lower concourse. Sections 315-320 and 341-347 were completely empty. The Rutgers band filled 118 and the UNC band was in 139. The large contingency of Rutgers supporters filled a sea of red in sections 126-128 and the Tar Heel faithful were in 105-108.
Two large video scoreboards hand over the end zones, above the 300 level sections. Neither impedes seat views and at least one is visible from any of the 65,000 seats. More wide than tall, the monitors featured a live feed of game play through the afternoon. Stats are relegated to the auxiliary boards, which are also located in the end zones, but placed between the 100 and 200 levels of seats.
Adding to the charm of any college football game, both bands took turns playing through the game. The Rutgers band appeared to be almost quadruple the size of the UNC band and put on a great show before kickoff and again with a 'Hero' themed halftime show.
Arrive a few days before the game and enjoy the amenities of a rejuvenated downtown Detroit. If they are in town (as they were in 2014), a Red Wings game at legendary Joe Louis Arena is a religious experience for any sports fan. Take in a Titans basketball game at Calihan Hall as the University of Detroit (15 minute drive) plays in a closer option from downtown as compared to the Pistons, who play at the Palace of Auburn Hills, a 30 minute drive north of the city.
The downtown neighborhood offers plenty of other activities in the days leading up to the game. Outdoor Ice skating is located at Campus Martius Park in the heart of downtown and the Greektown Casino is walking distance to most hotels. In 2014, Wicked was playing at the Detroit Opera House and Fox Theatre always has top acts. If you can make the drive to suburban Dearborn, the Henry Ford, a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex, is fascinating for any age level and is a National Historic Landmark.
Headquarter hotels for the game are the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit (ACC) and the Detroit Marriott at Renaissance Center (Big Ten), but the Courtyard Detroit Downtown is a top option as it features lower rates and an enclosed walkway to access downtown sports facilities, entertainment venues, the Greektown Casino, and restaurants.
Punch Bowl Social features 1,000 seats, four bars, scratch made food, craft cocktails, eight bowling lanes, karaoke rooms, and other activities. The venue is on Broadway, a six minute walk from Ford Field, and served as the official bar and restaurant for University of North Carolina fans. Rutgers fans called Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Music Café home, a Cajun chain with steak, seafood, and a French Quarter vibe. Located in the shadow of the Greektown Casino, the restaurant is a seven minute walk from Ford Field.
Take a walk to Detroit's Historic American Coney Island, the home of the true original Coney style hot dog. Another favorite Detroit dining option is Slow's Bar B Q, which features slow cooked meats and craft beers. It is a 10 minute drive from most points downtown. Keep in mind that most dining options may have limited hours over the Christmas holidays so plan accordingly.
A trip to Detroit over the Christmas holiday may not carry the same allure as heading to the Nassau for the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl or Marlins Park for the Miami Beach Bowl, but being able to support your school and football is reason enough to make the trip to the Quick Lane Bowl. Alumni and fans were treated to balmy 50 degree temperatures in 2014, and filled Ford Field to almost 1/3 of its capacity. North Carolina entered the game at 6-6 and Rutgers one game better at 7-5, but the fans that made the trip were loud and supportive even though the play on the field was one-sided.
Regardless of the quality of fans for both teams, experiencing a sporting event when attendance is announced (not actual fans in seats) at 1/3 of the venue's capacity takes some of the energy out of the room. The majesty and mystique of a postseason game almost has an exhibition-type feeling due to the empty seats. A story published by Keith Sargeant on NJ.com, stated Rutgers was on pace to exceed 5,000 of the 8,000 tickets allotted to the school, down from previous years when the school averaged 8,400 for its postseason bowl games.
Ford Field is located in downtown Detroit, on the north side of the heart of the city center. The facility is next door to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. Ford Field may be one of the easiest downtown sports facilities to access in the country as I-75 is only blocks away. The facility is a 30 minute walk to Joe Louis Arena, maybe the farthest point from Ford Field a sports fan would want to see when in downtown Detroit. However, in between these two places are plenty of hotels, restaurants, parking options, and maybe most impressive, the downtown People Mover system that connects a few of these aforementioned destinations, which is a major plus in winter visits to the area.
RYDE, a crowd sourcing transportation service, partnered with the Quick Lane Bowl to offer round trip transportation on luxury motorcoaches. Shuttles depart from surrounding locations, such as Saginaw, Flint, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Toledo, and starts at $39 per person.
For guests requiring handicap accessibility, Gates A-E and G are clearly noted with handicap accessibility, leaving only Gate F on St. Antoine Street as the only entry not marked. When inside, Ford Field seems to have clearly made a point to ensure handicap access points and facilities are available in every section of the stadium.
Parking around the field for the game is plentiful and at many price points. The lot for Detroit Lions suite holders was uncovered and on the high end at $25. A few blocks to the west and closer to Comerica Park, parking for as low as $10 was available. The garage directly across from the main entrance, Gate A, just steps from the facility, but with more supply than demand, especially on a pseudo-holiday, the $30 price tag is not justifiable.
A college football bowl game should be on the 'must do' list for any sports fan. With most of them being played in warm weather destinations, access to them for Midwesterners is sometimes difficult, making the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit a worthwhile experience. Another advantage of a bowl game is having the opportunity to experience two teams from two conferences that a fan may not get to experience on a regular basis.
The price difference between standard fare and premium concessions is not noticeable, considering Ford Field is an NFL venue. With so many open seats, bringing kids to the game is a breeze, as you feel you can spread out without imposing on others.
Tickets to sit on in the lower level for the Quick Lane Bowl were as low as $37 on the secondary market as late as the day of the game in 2014. An offer from Groupon had tickets in sections 122-123 in the east end zone for $39 ($77.65 value). An even better Groupon option were tickets between the 30's in either the lower level or club level for a price of $50 (a $103.25 value).
A free program was given to all fans entering the game. The four page handout featured rosters of both teams on the inside and stadium tips, seating chart, and facts on the back.
While the Lions Pro Shop was open during the game with their standard merchandise available, only one merchandise kiosk dedicated to the Quick Lane Bowl was found on the concourse. Trinkets started at $8, hats and tee shirts were $25, and sweatshirts were available for $50.
The Quick Lane Bowl hosted a 50/50 raffle during the game to benefit the Detroit Pal and Feeding America. Five minutes into the first quarter and the estimated jackpot was already over $10K.
Added touches to the stadium are the Detroit Lions Central Division and NFL Championship banners up above the north rafters. Ford Field hung banners dedicated to the Quick Lane Bowl and each team in each corner of the facility.
The 4:30PM game was televised nationally on ESPN with Mark Neely on play-by-play duties, Ray Bently working color commentary, and Niki Noto as the sideline reporter.
Ford Field and the Quick Lane Bowl earns extra points for its concession variety and sightlines afforded from the concourse, affordability of entry to the game, and free program available to all fans entering the game.
The Detroit Lions have made a commitment to keeping postseason college football in Detroit and to be considered a candidate to host future Big Ten Championship games and potential College Football Playoff games. However, for the time being, the size of the arena and not being filled takes a little away from the energy of the game. Some of these bowls are best suited for smaller venues as it helps better capture the excitement of the game.
Playing in a bowl game is the prize at the end of the season for every team, and it should be the same reward for fans! With more games being played outside of the typical sunshine states, you are doing yourself a disservice by not seeking out one of these fun stadium journeys. Entrench yourself with the local culture and schools playing in the game. Skip the crowded malls and sledding on December 26th. Anyone in the Great Lakes footprint should have this QUICK road trip on their calendar in December.
The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is played at Ford Field. The game was originally known as the Motor City, but Little Caesars became in the title sponsor in 2009. The game generally pits a team from the MAC against the 8th bowl eligible Big Ten team. For our 2011 visit, the match-up featured the Purdue Boilermakers and the Western Michigan Broncos.
Beginning in 2014, the bowl will be known as the Quick Lane Bowl with the Ford Motor Company as the title sponsor, and backed by the Detroit Lions. Conference tie-ins are with the Big Ten, and the ACC.
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