Indianapolis is formally throwing its hat into the ring to host a future NFL draft, while also mounting an effort to retain the league’s scouting combine, which has called the city home for nearly 35 years.
The Indianapolis Colts submitted two “expression of interest” documents—one for each event—to the league’s corporate offices ahead of a July 23 deadline, following extensive discussions with the Indiana Sports Corp., Visit Indy and city officials.
The submissions were to host the scouting combine from 2023 to 2027 (all available years) and the draft in either 2025 or 2027
Visit Indy was responsible for writing the expression of interest for the combine, while the Indiana Sports Corp. wrote the pitch for the draft. Officials with the Capital Improvement Board of Marion County, which operates the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, were also involved in the process.
“The Colts are our quarterback—they’re our relationship manager, they’re the linchpin in making sure that whatever we submit has the right tone and the right approach,” said Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy.
Both expressions of interest are a first step in what will be a formal bidding process the league will start with top contenders in the coming months.
The NFL asked all teams interested in hosting either of the events to provide a high-level overview of their facilities and potential partnerships, as well a description of up to 1,000 words discussing how each city would try to enhance the events.
The league is only considering markets for the combine that meet the following criteria:
— The ability to host the combine at least two consecutive years.
— More than 500,000 square feet of indoor space for a fan-experience area.
— A partnership with a local hospital that can handle extensive medical testing.
— At least 3,000 hotel rooms near combine activities.
The Colts, Visit Indy and Indiana Sports Corp. each declined to provide full copies of the expressions of interest, saying they are concerned doing so could provide an advantage to potential competitors.
But Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the proposals were built on the city’s past success of hosting hundreds of sporting events, including the combine since 1987.
“The NFL—with the draft, the Super Bowl and the combine—constantly wants to do something different or better, and so do we,” Vaughn said. “We have a history of delivering on that desire, so that’s how we framed it in our short expression of interest. Obviously a much larger bid—if we’re invited back to offer a more formal bid—would be where we start to spell those things out.”
He said the expression of interest for both events also highlighted areas that local officials believe are key areas for the NFL, such as getting children interested in football and making for more engaging fan spaces.
“We reference innovations that we can make and community activations we can do, but it’s not spelled out in any detail because there’s just no room,” he said. “It’s more about saying, ‘We know these things are important to you. They’re important to us, too, and historically we’ve been able to deliver on on innovations.’”
Visit Indy’s Gahl said for the combine in particular, the focus is on continuing to grow the event for fans without losing the allure of the event for NFL executives, who have often highlighted the ease of getting around the city and having event venues within a short walk of hotels. He said the submission also highlighted the NFL’s longstanding partnership with Indiana University Health.
“While we have been able to grow the fan-facing portion of the combine, we believe the heartbeat of this event needs to continue to focus on the athletes, as well as the teams being able to make those important decisions they come here for,” Gahl said, adding that the city “has the space” that’s needed to continue improving the fan experience.
“Our intent to continue in the process to keep the combine safe and sound also fixates on the fact that it’s quality of fan experience over quantity that matters,” Gahl said. “While we’re not ready to give all the details of those 1,000 words, it does focus on the uniqueness of … everything being under the same roof. It’s almost as if a fan can experience it through that same lens as those who are intimately involved with the combine.”
In addition to opening the combine to bids, the NFL has also sought interest from cities for the draft. The league is vetting bids for 2025 to 2029, with calls for similar space needs—500,000 square feet—although some draft events have been held in outdoor spaces in cities including Las Vegas, Nashville and Cleveland
Vaughn said while Indianapolis officials have expressed an interest in hosting the draft in the past, this is the first time it’s been able to offer additional context to the league for what its vision might be for such an event. The city has long mulled going after the draft, including back in 2019 when officials told IBJ they planned to put in a bid at the next opportunity.
The NFL said in June it would shift to a bid process for the combine rather than committing to a longterm extension in Indianapolis. That decision, first reported by IBJ, was made to appease team owners with a desire to host the combine and to create more opportunities for fans to engage with the league’s future stars.
The bid process will allow teams from across the league to bid on hosting the combine—which acts as a job interview, of sorts, for more than 300 college football players— much like the teams already do for the Super Bowl and the draft.
So far, only Dallas has publicized a desire to host the combine, but cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Minneapolis were expected to have an interest in the event as well.
Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, said there is “substantial interest from clubs around the country” to host events like the combine and draft, but added the league is not sharing details about how many teams sent in pitches.
He said league officials “will soon begin evaluating next steps and the process moving forward.”
In neither document did city tourism officials commit to specific financial incentives to host the event, but Vaughn said there’s a general understanding that a financial commitment “at some level” would be discussed as part of a more in-depth bid process.
It’s not clear how much the NFL pays to rent space at the Indiana Convention Center or Lucas Oil Stadium. The base rental price for space used at the convention center in 2020 was about $100,000, but sections of public agreements between the league and the Capital Improvement Board were redacted, indicating the price was likely lowered through ancillary negotiations.
By comparison, the NCAA’s base rental for the duration of the men’s basketball tournament earlier this year was about $1.2 million, but the organization struck a deal with city officials to only pay about $84,000 for the space.
“There’s no direct commitment—no statement in there—that says we’ll provide X-amount of dollars for these events,” Vaughn said of the submitted documents.
“It really was about conceptualizing and selling the city and selling innovation, with the full understanding from Team Indy’s side that there would be some commitment at some level” if the NFL opted to take up conversations about hosting either event in Indianapolis.