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O'HARA: Lions listening to their fans

You can cheer or boo over the announcement that the Detroit Lions will have cheerleaders for the 2016 season. That's fair game – as fair as arguing whether to pass or run on third and three.

It's your choice to decide whether you come down on the side of tradition with the belief that all that matters is how the game is played between the white lines, or if you think a mix of entertainment and sports enhances your gameday experience.

And you can shrug -- "Who cares?" – as though adding cheerleaders ranks with debating the merits of the passer efficiency rating formula.

Whatever the reaction – cheer, boo, who cares? – it should not be ignored how joining the majority of NFL teams that have cheerleaders is another indication that the Lions are making fundamental changes in how they operate in the relationship with their fans.

The message from the top is that the Lions are listening to their fans and reacting to what they hear from them.

For the 2016 Detroit Lions, the top means just that – Owner Martha Firestone Ford. Going into her third year as owner, her imprint is on this franchise in every detail.

The pivotal moment in the franchise's profile and direction was on Nov. 5 of last year, when Ford fired team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew.

It wasn't just the midseason dismissal of the two loyal, long-tenured executives and the front-office overhaul it triggered that signaled a new approach for the franchise was looming.

How Ford handled the situation was most revealing of the future direction. She was front and center that day, and on multiple fronts. She read a statement to the media, met with the staff and players to explain the action she had taken, and she sent out an email to season ticket members.

Her statement left no doubt about what she expected, saying in part:

"Our fans deserve a winning football team, and we will do everything to make it a reality.

"I also want to make clear that we have no intention of giving up on the season. We expect our team to compete, improve and win."

One man's opinion: the underlying message was that the old Lions would be just that – the old Lions. And that was not acceptable.

All signs this offseason pointed to the Lions breaking tradition and adding cheerleaders. There was never a denial by team president Rod Wood when the subject arose in meetings with the media and fan forums.

There should be more to come from the Lions in their outreach to fans, and likely will be with enhancements and additions to Ford Field that are designed to make the in-stadium experience more fan-friendly.

Sports franchises are facing increasingly fierce competition for the entertainment dollar. They have to embrace their fans' demands and desires, not hold them at arm's length.

Let's inject some reality here. Style points should not be confused with performance. Having cheerleaders won't win games. They won't score a single point.

The bottom line on success or failure is how the won-loss column adds up.

It's up to general manager Bob Quinn, head coach Jim Caldwell and their respective staffs and the players to hold up their end of the deal by winning games.

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