Indy wants the NFL Draft, but not right away

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Hosting the NFL Draft has been on the minds of Indianapolis leaders for the past few years, but pushing to bring the event here probably won’t happen right away.

The Colts, Visit Indy, the Indiana Sports Corp. and the city—all of which would have direct involvement in a formal bid process—have had informal discussions since at least 2016 about hosting the draft, and have expressed their interest to the NFL.

But scheduling conflicts and other major sports events have waylaid an effort to make a push for the draft. The city already has a lot on its plate, including the NCAA men’s Final Four, the NBA-All Star Game and the College Football Playoff Championship, all of which are on the calendar in 2021 or 2022.

“We’ve got a lot in the next two, three years that really keeps us from trying to tackle this before 2022,” said Ryan Vaughn, president of the Indiana Sports Corp. “We’ve continued to express interest in the years after [that], though.”

Visit Indy also has a slew of events coming up that would limit the tourism group’s involvement if the city made a push for the draft now. It's generally held the last full weekend of April—a prime time for convention traffic, said Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl.

“Everybody seems to be on board that this is something we should go after, but beyond that, we really haven’t had extensive conversations about what that would look like,” he said. “That is something that I’m sure we’ll talk about moving forward, but we’re not there yet.”

The top priority now for city leaders is keeping the NFL Combine, which will be up for grabs after next year. Indianapolis has hosted the event since 1987, but it has become a bigger tourism draw and other cities are trying to lure it away.

“We want to keep the combine here,” Gahl said. “That’s a major event for us, and we think we have a lot to offer with that. I think it would be great if we could get both the combine and the draft—that would be a great experience for fans and the league—but right now our focus is on keeping the combine.”

He said Visit Indy should know plans for the combine in the next month.

As far as the draft goes, at least 23 cities have expressed interest in hosting the event over the years, including Canton, Ohio, which is the only such city that isn’t home to an NFL team. Nashville, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia have each played host to the draft since it began moving around in 2015, after more than 50 years in New York City.

Indianapolis was one of 12 cities—Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle being the others—who sent representatives to the NFL Draft this year in Nashville.

Visit Indy officials went to learn more about the experience of hosting the event, which—like the Super Bowl—has extensive fan components.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is in the process of deciding who will host the 2021 and 2022 drafts, rather than following the strategy it uses for the Super Bowl, for which bids are awarded five to eight years in advance. 

McCarthy said Indianapolis could be in a good position to earn the draft, but he noted there is extensive competition from across the league, including from cities like Cleveland and Kansas City that have previously bid on the event.

“There’s no question Indianapolis is a marquee city that’s able to host big events, and it comes in with a lot of experience,” McCarthy  said. “But there are a lot of cities vying for this event, and that’s probably not going to change."

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