NFL draft becomes a Las Vegas extravaganza

Mike Florio

Five years ago, the NFL strong-armed players from participating in a fantasy-football convention organized by Tony Romo in Las Vegas, because it was going to be held at a property owned by a casino (but not actually in a casino). The football world has changed dramatically since then.

Now, Las Vegas has a team. And Las Vegas has a draft. (Soon enough, Las Vegas will have a Super Bowl.)

The powers-that-be in the City Formerly Known As Sin unveiled their plans for the 2020 NFL Draft on Tuesday, and it’s going to be a show about nothing unlike any we’ve ever seen. Remember, they used to do the draft in a smoke-filled hotel ballroom. Currently, they could do all of this by text message, with one team after another alerting the league office and all other teams as to the name of the player being selected.

But the NFL has taken the HOPE and the NEW of the draft and turned it into a three-day extravaganza that supplements if not rivals the Super Bowl as one of the biggest events of the year.

Although it became a big deal during its extended run at Radio City Music Hall, the draft became what it now has become once the league took the show on the road, an idea pushed aggressively by Commissioner Roger Goodell on an ownership group that all too often prefers to do things the way they’ve always been done. (Some of them surely are bristling secretly at the over-the-top nature of the modern-day draft, at least until they are reminded of the money and interest generated by it.)

The interest will be unprecedented in Las Vegas. Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal has the details. The red carpet will be floating in the Fountains of the Bellagio, with player taken to and from the what-could-go-wrong? contraption by boat. Then, they’ll be whisked to the main stage and the NFL Draft Experience, adjacent to Caesars Forum.

The entire event will have a distinct Raiders vibe.

“It is an NFL event and we are the host city, so you will see a lot of the Raiders’ presence,” Raiders president Marc Badain said, via Akers. “We have a number of events planned around the city. You talk about that backdrop, it’s pretty surreal to see Las Vegas, the Raiders and the NFL Draft all together.”

Surreal is definitely the right word, considering that the NFL had a clear and obvious “No Vegas” policy just a few years ago. As recently as 2013, league spokesman Brian McCarthy shot down speculation that the Pro Bowl or preseason games in Las Vegas. Now, they’ll be shooting off fireworks and other fancy pyrotechnics in Nevada as the league embraces Las Vegas fully and completely, with never a mention of the stunning reversal that has happened in, relatively speaking, a roll of the dice on a craps table.