Tigers CEO Chris Ilitch: We want more fans, but state, science will decide when

Detroit News

The Tigers didn’t sell a single ticket in 2020.

So Christoper Ilitch, team chairman and CEO, is quite appreciative that the state of Michigan raised the fan cap for Opening Day and the foreseeable future. The Tigers had an announced crowd of 8,000 on Thursday, and that was considered a sellout — even though it’s just 20% of Comerica Park’s capacity. That’s what the state allowed; the state, until a couple weeks ago, was planning to cap it at 1,000.

“First thing I would say is thank you to the officials in the state of Michigan,” Ilitch said during a midgame interview on Bally Sports Detroit (formerly Fox Sports Detroit).

Opening Day at Comerica Park marked the largest crowd gathering for a sports or entertainment event in Michigan since before the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020.

But it’s just a start. Ilitch hopes the Tigers eventually get back to even bigger crowds, but he has no timetable on that front. That will continue to be dictated by science.

Michigan is currently in the midst of another COVID-19 surge, with the largest positive-test rate in the nation.

“The next step, and all of this will be governed by the state of Michigan officials, I think they’re looking at the trends in the pandemic and seeing how we do in terms of performance and keeping people safe and making sure we all collectively in the ballpark follow the protocols,” said Ilitch, the Tigers’ de facto owner for a fifth Opening Day, following father Mike’s death in 2017. “Hopefully as the weather gets warmer and the infection rates go down, we can get the green light from the state to have even more folks at the ballpark.”

The Tigers enter the 2021 season still in rebuild mode, though far close to the finish than the beginning.

They’re not expected to contend this year, though they got off to a good start Thursday, thanks to Miguel Cabrera’s first-inning home run.

Good seasons or bad, Opening Day always is special, especially for the Ilitches, who’ve been tied to the Tigers franchise for decades. Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1992; he was a minor-leaguer in his 20s.

“Opening Day’s about a lot of things. I think about my family, my mother, my father … I think about the fans,” Chris Ilitch said. “It’s the unofficial start of spring in Michigan, and it’s a time of inspiration and hope and warmer days and brighter days ahead.”

This year, after the year that was, more than ever.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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