Indy in hunt to host NFL draft

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Indianapolis is positioning itself to bid on hosting the NFL Draft—possibly as soon as 2020.

But the Circle City is far from alone.

When NFL brass started asking NFL team owners and city officials over the last year if they’d be interested in hosting the draft—which last month drew 200,000 people to Philadelphia—23 cities expressed interest.

Dallas, Green Bay and Los Angeles, along with Canton, Ohio—home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame—are known to be in the hunt. Canton is the only city involved that isn’t home to one of 32 NFL teams.

After holding the draft in New York for 51 years, the NFL started moving the event around in 2015, with a two-year run in Chicago and this year in the City of Brotherly Love. The NFL hasn’t decided where the event will be next year, but league officials have hinted it could return to Philadelphia.

An NFL spokesman said a decision on the 2018 draft will be made by September. NFL officials hope eventually to make hosting announcements three to four years in advance, much like for the Super Bowl.

Officials for the Indiana Sports Corp., Visit Indy and Indianapolis Colts—which would be the primary players in Indianapolis' bid process—attended the last two drafts to scout the event and see what's required of the host city.

“The city has definitely expressed an interest in bidding on hosting a future draft, and we would certainly be supportive,” said Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward.

ISC spokesman Brett Williams told IBJ, "We were there to see how the event is physically set up, and what the event atmosphere 'feels' like."

Indianapolis will not bid for 2018 or 2019, Ward and Visit Indy officials said, due to scheduling conflicts with the Indiana Convention Center and other facilities needed to host the growing event.

While ISC officials said they are not currently in the active bid process, a source familiar with local plans said the city definitely plans to bid on the draft and likely would target 2020.

Making this bid trickier is a new and quickly evolving bid process for the event. Canton officials bid for the 2017 and 2018 draft even though they said they were really hoping to win the event in 2019 or 2020. Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said the 2017 and 2018 bids were made primarily to get familiar with the process.

It is still being determined where the draft and surrounding events would be held in Indianapolis, if the city wins the bid. The convention center is likely to be used for at least part of the event, but an outdoor site for the draft and/or other ancillary events is being considered, the source told IBJ. In Chicago the event was held outside at Grant Park.

Local officials are certainly not newcomers when it comes to bidding for sports or other events—dating back to the 1980s with the National Sports Festival, Pan Am Games and the city’s first of many Final Fours, as well as many global conventions. That experience with a variety of bids may give it an advantage in this competition.

If Indianapolis mounts a bid, Ward has no doubt it will be a serious contender to host the event.

“No one hosts a big event like Indianapolis,” Ward said. “The NFL is well aware of what this city is capable of doing from a hosting standpoint. I know the city would do a great job with the draft.”

While competition for the May draft will be stiff, Indianapolis might have a leg up in NFL circles. Not only is the 2012 Super Bowl still relatively fresh in people’s minds, but Indianapolis has been the longtime host of the NFL Scouting Combine and this year launched the first-ever fan experience entertainment zone for the combine.

The draft calls for a fan experience zone that's similar to the one for the combine. The draft also has parties and other ancillary events connected to it.

There are plenty of reasons why so many cities are interested in the draft. Cold weather is much less a factor in May than it is for a wintertime Super Bowl. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the cost of hosting a Super Bowl is the primary responsibility of the host city, while the NFL thus far has shouldered the lion’s share of the expenses for the draft. Of course, as competition for the event heats up, that could change. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if cities start throwing incentives at the NFL to win the event.

The cost to host the event this year in Philadelphia was estimated at $25 million, including the construction of a 3,000-seat open-air theater, which included a green room, red carpet area and large stage.

While the event generates half or less of an economic boost than a Super Bowl, it’s nothing to sneeze at. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the draft generated an $80 million economic impact.

It’s difficult to compare the economic impact of events held in different cities, because each city has a different way of calculating those numbers. But the draft appears to at least approach the impact of a Final Four.

Visit Indy estimated that 70,000 people spent about $71 million in Indianapolis for the 2015 Final Four. It’s notable that Visit Indy’s number is for visitor spending, which is a smaller number than economic impact, which is often calculated using local spending and multiplying factors.

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