SBJ/April 24-30, 2017/Events and Attractions

Interest soars in NFL draft as multicity fan event

Twenty-three cities want to host the NFL draft in 2018, and the league is considering turning the burgeoning fan festival into a multicity event.

The NFL projects that more than 200,000 fans will attend the event in Philadelphia this week, the third year the league moved to expand its scope after 51 annual cramped affairs in New York. For the last two years the NFL staged the draft in Chicago’s Grant Park, and could keep the player selection spectacle in Philadelphia next year.

If it does not, however, the league has a long list of suitors waiting for what has rapidly evolved from mainly a media event in New York to a massive fan carnival complete with major sponsor presence and active and retired player appearances.

“We have gone out multiple times to all 32 clubs to get their expression of interest in hosting the draft,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL senior vice president of events. “The number of interested … markets are 23, which is inclusive of Canton.”

In other words, more than two-thirds of NFL teams, 22 out of 32, want the draft, far higher than the handful that line up for a Super Bowl. Part of that’s simple geography: The league rarely awards cold weather Super Bowls. But it is also because the Super Bowl cost is borne by a local host committee, while the NFL, so far, is shouldering most of the expense for the draft.

For Philadelphia, the cost is $25 million, the bulk of which is borne by the league. It hired C3 Presents, for example, to construct a temporary 3,000-seat open air theater, which will host the green room, red carpet and stage where the commissioner makes the first-round announcements. (In the case of severe weather, those features move to the nearby Museum of Art.)

The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the draft will generate $80 million in economic impact and support 26,000 local jobs, which raises the question of how much longer the NFL will be willing to bear most of the cost.

“How long before they start asking cities to pay expenses to host like the Super Bowl?” asked one sports business official familiar with the NFL. “I’m sure that will be part of their strategy.”

O’Reilly declined to comment on costs.

Because of the surge in interest to host the event, the NFL may spread a single draft among different cities. Already, some rounds are announced at team sites across the country. Rather than do that, those rounds could fold into a draft festival in a second locale.

“You are looking at a multistate draft, and that may happen as early as 2018,” said one football source who has had conversations with NFL officials about the subject.

The application process is evolving. For the Super Bowl, it is a cumbersome, requirement-heavy affair for bids, while the league is just feeling its way on the draft. “We are taking it slowly,” O’Reilly said. “It’s only year three into this new model.”

To underscore the evolving state, Canton bid for 2017 and 2018, and didn’t even want those years. The hall put in the application to get familiar with the process, but “we are looking at 2019 and 2020,” the drafts during the NFL’s centennial year, said David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

The competition is stiff. Teams known to be interested include the Dallas Cowboys for their new practice site in Frisco, the new Los Angeles stadium of the Rams and Chargers, and the Green Bay Packers and their new mixed-use business district.

Packers President Mark Murphy said he does not expect the bidding process to begin to mirror those for Super Bowls. Instead, the league is likely to award the event based on specific circumstances, as in the case of the Packers opening their business area.

As with a Super Bowl, the teams are part of a broader effort that includes the city and the visitors bureau.

Last year, the NFL chose Philadelphia just before the regular season. O’Reilly expects that is the latest the NFL tips its hand for 2018. Ultimately, he expects the draft host selections unfolding like the Super Bowl, with the host cities set three to four years in advance.

“I could see us getting there,” O’Reilly said. “There is such interest from a broad swath of clubs, you want to reach those fans.”

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