NFL Combine could leave Indianapolis after 20-plus years: Event organizers want better deal after 2008

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Despite moving their headquarters from Tulsa to Indianapolis last year, the organizers of the NFL Scouting Combine said the event could move following 2008.

“We’re still in the midst of data collection, so it’s difficult to evaluate this year’s event,” said Jeffrey Foster, president of National Invitational Camp, which runs the Combine from its office at Pan Am Plaza.

While the primary concern of agents and players-the speed of the 40-yard dash track-was worked out, a new set of concerns cropped up, Foster said, which has NIC considering moving the event when its contract with the city and RCA Dome expires after 2008. The Combine is held annually in February.

Already, Foster said, Dallas, Phoenix and two cities each in Florida and Missouri have expressed interest in bidding on the event.

“In the next month, we’ll evaluate every aspect of the event, including cost, and that will go a long way toward determining the future of the event,” he said.

Foster said city officials don’t appreciate the event’s economic impact and hoteliers must be called on to give participating teams better room rates. The Crowne Plaza Hotel is the event’s host hotel, but teams often negotiate deals with surrounding hotels for a set of rooms.

City economic incentives and favorable pricing to use city-owned facilities will go a long way toward keeping the event in Indianapolis.

“Teams like the continuity of staying in the same place, but I think some hotels here have taken advantage of that,” Foster said.

Over the 20 years the event has been held here, Foster said, event organizers have seen cost escalations that have outpaced inflation. He said other cities have assured him they can do better.

“All we are looking for is fair market value,” he said.

This year, 327 college prospects participated in the Combine. Each of 32 NFL teams brought about 40 employees to the event.

NFL Network broadcast two hours of the event every day this year, and the Combine continues to garner more international media attention each year.

“During the month of February, all eyes in the football world are on Indianapolis,” said David Morton, principal of locally based Sunrise Sports Group.

The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association was key in brokering the deal to bring NIC and its sister company, National Football Scouting, to Indianapolis. ICVA CEO Bob Bedell is hopeful a deal can be signed soon to retain the Combine until at least 2016.

Foster said details must be worked out about how the event will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium when it is completed, and what the cost will be to NIC.

According to the ICVA, the Combine brings $5 million in direct visitor spending annually-not including millions racked up in medical spending.

One big reason NFS and NIC officials have remained in Indianapolis is their partnership with Clarian Health Partners.

When the roaming Combine-which started in 1977-finished its stint in New Orleans and rolled into Indianapolis in 1987, few people thought it would have much impact or stay long, but Clarian’s ability to handle a growing volume of testing in a short time frame was critical to the Combine’s extended stay.

For the 2006 Combine, Clarian executed 2,683 X-rays, 400 MRIs, 350 physical and psychological examinations, hundreds of blood tests, urinalyses, EKGs, CAT scans, ultrasounds, bone scans and more in just four days. Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell said the event brings in more than $1 million profit to Clarian annually.

One major worry going into the event turned out to be a non-factor.

Agents became concerned when RCA Dome officials changed surfaces from low-profile Astro Turf to more lush Field Turf last year.

“There was some fear that the change would slow prospects in the 40-yard dash, and that could hurt their draft status,” said Milt Thompson, president of locally based Grand Slam Cos. “When being drafted, one round lower can cost a player $250,000 to $500,000 per year, [so] you can see why they’re concerned.”

Scouts were worried that agents would advise players not to run, and event organizers worried that would diminish the event’s value.

“This is the same surface the [Indianapolis] Colts use,” said RCA Dome Director Mike Fox. “It’s consistent for all the athletes at the Combine.”

Still, agents feared times would not compare favorably to times of years past, and that would hurt this year’s prospects. But when several prospects ran blazingly fast 40-yard dash times, those fears were put to rest.

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