The NFL Draft has turned into more and more of a gathering place for fans from across the country, with an estimated 312,000 people attending this year’s draft in Kansas City. The draft was held in New York City from 1965-2014, including at Radio City Music Hall from 2006-2014, but has moved around the country since to outdoor venues in Chicago (2015-16), Philadelphia (2017), Dallas (2018), Nashville (2019), Cleveland (2021), and Las Vegas (2022). (The 2020 draft was set for Vegas, but was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) And ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter said on his podcast this week that the draft is unlikely to return to an indoor setting any time soon thanks to the numbers of people wanting to attend it:
— Barrett Sports Media (@BSMStaff) May 2, 2023
Here are some quotes from that, from that above piece from Barrett Sports Media’s Jordan Bondurant:
“Not only is the NFL moving cities, going to a different city every year, but I believe that we’ve seen the last – for the foreseeable future – of the indoor drafts,” Schefter said. “Because there are too many people that want to be there! They can’t stick it inside anywhere. It’s got to be outside with hundreds of thousands of people.”
…“It’s become the offseason Super Bowl – the NFL’s Coachella – where cities that wouldn’t be awarded a Super Bowl, like Green Bay, because there aren’t enough hotels and nobody wants to travel to Green Bay in February,” Schefter added. “This has become the NFL’s answer to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to give you the Super Bowl, but we are gonna give you this draft.’ And the cities, I believe, love that.”
The cities do, indeed, love that, even if there’s debate over the actual value of the economic impact. Some business owners noted that the draft’s self-contained setup and tight security meant the crowds of visitors didn’t leave that area much, and many locals stayed away from downtown thanks to draft traffic. But the idea of bringing in these crowds for “the NFL’s Coachella” still has a lot of appeal to cities, with Schefter noting that officials from nine cities hoping to land a future draft (2024’s is set for Detroit) were present at this year’s draft. Schefter also noted that the draft’s timing means it’s possible for cities like Green Bay that are unlikely to get the Super Bowl due to weather to bid for this.
There’s also perhaps a stadium construction dimension to this. With the draft, and events around it, continuing to grow, this becomes an appealing prize for cities. And the NFL can possibly dangle future draft hosting as an incentive for new or renovated stadiums. The league doesn’t necessarily need to do that given its already-present success getting stadium financing, including both Buffalo and Tennessee recently passing deals for stadiums with major public funding components, but having big events it can throw at cities and teams beyond just the Super Bowl (and beyond the combine, which will be staying in Indianapolis through at least 2024 despite flirtations elsewhere) is nice, and that’s certainly paid off for leagues like the NHL with the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series. And the NFL Draft is growing into a bigger thing than any of those.