The NFL Scouting Combine, held in Indianapolis since 1987, is becoming more fan-friendly than ever—and that could mean another 100,000 visitors downtown and $2 million scored for hotels and restaurants this March.
The combine started as a behind-closed-doors business affair for NFL team owners, coaches and scouts to evaluate recent college graduates before the spring draft. The NFL now is seeking to use the event to strengthen its brand and grow its fan base.
The league is planning several days of fan-centric activities during the combine to be called the Combine Experience, slated for March 2-5 in 162,000 square feet of the Indiana Convention Center. The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine will take place Feb. 28-March 6, largely in Lucas Oil Stadium.
As part of the Experience, fans will be able to participate in games and physical challenges, as well as autograph sessions with NFL legends, the league announced Tuesday. Some also will have limited access to combine drills and press conferences.
The event is expected to be a huge draw, with as many as 100,000 fans attending over four days. About 40,000 are expected to be from outside Indiana.
Fans can obtain free tickets for a particular day and two-hour time slot by registering at nfl.com/combinefmp.
“In addition, we’re providing exclusive viewing opportunities inside Lucas Oil Stadium ... for an additional 6,000 fans. That’s up from 3,000 last year,” said NFL spokeswoman Catherine Boyle.
The combine this year had an economic impact of just more than $8 million. Visit Indy officials think that could grow to $10 million-plus with the new addition.
“If it’s a blockbuster, it could add another $2 million in economic impact,” said Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl. “There are a lot of factors, so we won’t know the exact economic impact until after the first year. But we think it’s going to be extremely popular with football fans.”
Visit Indy and NFL officials have been meeting over the last year to develop a marketing strategy for the event, Gahl said.
“We are doing some co-branded marketing with the NFL in Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati. When we sat down with the NFL … those were three markets that were identified as very active for [the league],” Gahl said.
“Those are three key markets for us as well as the NFL. Our message will be ‘come experience the NFL Combine Experience in Indianapolis.’”
The combine became a more noteworthy part of the off-season when networks like ESPN began doing more reporting from the event. As the league has grown in popularity, fans’ appetite for anything NFL-related, including the combine, has grown.
In 2004, the NFL Network began broadcasting parts of the event live, and by 2011 more than 6 million fans were tuning in to those broadcasts. In 2012, the NFL for the first time allowed a limited number of people—250—to watch parts of the combine. That number will rise from 3,000 to 6,000 next year.
The NFL Combine Experience will take place in the three convention center exhibit halls closest to Lucas Oil Stadium. It will offer all fans the opportunity to watch prospects participate in the bench-press drill; give them access the media center to view press conferences and interviews with combine prospects; and take part in interactive games, youth football clinics, and more.
“We are excited to deliver to our fans new opportunities to be a part of the Scouting Combine, one of our most-anticipated annual events,” NFL Senior Vice President of Events Peter O’Reilly said in a statement. “With the new NFL Combine Experience, we have re-imagined the event to provide more access for our fans and to create unique ways for them to join the excitement as well as see the next generation of NFL players in Indianapolis.”
The NFL will have an opportunity to raise some revenue through the presence of a large merchandise store within the NFL Combine Experience.