Detroit is making another push to enter the NFL draft host-city rotation.
They’re not the only ones, of course, and the next draft already has a location, but Detroit has figured out what other potential host cities are seeing: The draft is now big business for local economies. Even if it’s just for a three-day event.
According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Lions are attempting to aid city officials to make a push to be a future draft host.
Nashville was a hit as host of the 2019 NFL draft, drawing massive crowds despite poor weather during the first round. The TV ratings for this year’s draft were bonkers, yes, but the on-hand crowd was also something else to behold. More than 600,000 estimated fans descended on the city to take in the festivities.
Lions president Rod Wood said there was a lesson learned from the Nashville experience: A draft city needs to play to its strengths and its identity.
“Obviously, [Nashville has] a special area there with Broadway and the bars and the restaurants,” Wood said last week, speaking at the annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field. “I think what we learned is we need to do something, if we’re going to do it here, that’s really iconically Detroit.”
Detroit’s chances of landing a future NFL draft
Ever since the NFL chose to take the event on the road after its long-time residency in New York City, the draft has been a hit. Chicago hosted it twice, followed by Philadelphia and Dallas in 2017 and 2018, and even with some logistical hangups, those events drew a ton of spectators and gave the local economies a big boost.
Dallas officials reported an economic boon for the city of $125 million, and Philly had a bump of $90 million. And with Nashville perhaps drawing as many as 200,000 more people to the draft than Dallas did the year prior, the economic-impact numbers could be stunning.
Hence why Detroit — and many other cities — want in on the fun. Detroit should have stiff competition, however. Indianapolis, which fears it might be in danger of losing the rights to the NFL scouting combine, has thrown its hat into the ring.
And Detroit wasn’t even a finalist for the 2019 or 2020 drafts, the latter of which will go to Las Vegas. Denver, Kansas City and Cleveland/Canton all made the final round of bidding ahead of Detroit, which likely lost out because of scheduling conflicts.
Voting for the 2021 draft could happen “in the next [NFL] meeting or two” this coming fall. It’s likely that the site of the 2022 draft won’t be selected until next year.
What might make Detroit a good pick
Wood is a member of the Detroit Sports Organizing Corp., a group whose aim is to bring major sporting events to the city. The fact that Detroit has hosted Super Bowls, college bowl games and NCAA championship events bodes well. There’s also a sense that the growth of the downtown area following a economic recession has done enough to provide a lively and safe backdrop for a major event such as the draft.
The NFL has pushed the indoor-outdoor, multi-location element of the draft as well, which worked wonders in Nashville with its rows of restaurants, bars and other local businesses in a tight area. Detroit might have a similar infrastructure with some iconic venues (The Fox Theatre) located nearby to some larger venues, such as the Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ MLB stadium, Comerica Park, all abutted within a six-block square downtown.
“We’re in the running for a couple years from now I think to still bring an opportunity to bring a draft here,” Wood said. “So we’re trying to figure out, you can’t do what they did in Nashville, but there’s things that we might be able to do that would be in that vein and have the whole downtown showcased.”
Two years ago, when the DSOC first started putting their draft bid together, Wood touted the fact that Detroit is the only city with four major sports teams (at three venues) all in a single downtown area. Additionally, Detroit is home to a number of major NFL sponsors, and the close proximity to Canada couldn’t hurt the NFL’s interest in expanding the game beyond the U.S. borders.
Michigan also is a hotbed for college football, and the city is within driving distance of several NFL cities. Five NFL teams are within 300 miles of Detroit, and another half dozen are within 700 miles.
Detroit will have a tough bid ahead of itself, with several other cities likely in the mix to host a future draft. The initial bidding process included about 20 other NFL cities for the 2019 and 2020 selections. But if it can convince NFL officials that Detroit has could be the next Nashville — different but similar — there’s a chance the Motor City could be one of the next cities chosen.
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