Back in April, during the 2016 NFL Draft, news broke that the league was thinking of moving the marquee off-season event from Chicago, where it has held the draft for two seasons after decades in New York, to another NFL city. Philadelphia was on the very short list of candidates, which was curious given the Eagles had just traded away their 2017 first round pick. The other rumored option for the NFL was Los Angeles, another city without a first round pick in 2017. Hosting the three-day long NFL Draft in a city without a first round pick — and thus, with little interest in paying close attention to the first day — didn’t make much sense. But this is the NFL. They do what they want where they want.
Late Thursday, Philly.com published a report of an interview with United States congressman Bob Brady, stating unequivocally that Philly has agreed to host the NFL Draft. Brady said, on the record, that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny called him to say the city has agreed to commit $5 million for the event. Per Wendy Ruderman at Philly.com:
“The NFL wanted to come here, which is a good start,” Brady said in a phone interview. “I talked with the mayor. The mayor had a concern about money because he didn’t want to put the city in debt, rightfully so, so we had to go around and see if we could get some people that would help finance it and I think we were kind of successful.
“We’ve been dealing with this for the past couple of weeks, maybe three weeks, and [Kenney] just called me this afternoon and told me that we got the NFL, that the city is going to do it and he feels comfortable that the people who said they were going to help raise the money are going to do it.”
When reached by Billy Penn on Thursday evening, NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy said, “We have no agreements with any cities to host future Drafts.”
NBC Philadelphia reported Thursday that Kenney’s office also denied the report that a deal has been struck with the NFL. So nothing is official, but given the specifics Brady shared, it seems safe to assume an agreement, and subsequent announcement, is imminent.
That leads to the logistics, which will be a big concern for the NFL as they bring their draft circus to town. For years the NFL Draft was a two-day event, starting Saturday morning and running through late Sunday afternoon, all housed within the confines of one building in Manhattan. But as the NFL seems to do with everything, someone decided that bigger was better. The event was expanded to three days, starting Thursday night for Round 1, continuing with Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday night and finishing with a full day of four rounds and a whole lot of fanfare on Saturday. Two years ago the event was moved to Chicago, and Draft Town was created.
Per Brady’s comments to Ruderman, the Building Trades Union would put in more than $1 million to create the NFL’s Draft Town on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, modeled similarly to what the league had built in Chicago the last two seasons. The area would include a temporary stage and seating for around 3,000 spectators.
The Draft Town set up in Chicago had an area called Selection Square, which was used primarily to announce picks on Saturday, but the rest of the week, Draft Town was essentially a hospitality area for NFL fans. Picture a giant football theme park for those coming down for the Draft.
In Chicago, the NFL used Grant Park for its Draft Town, and for the first two days, the actual draft was conducted across the street at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. According to the event space’s website, the capacity is 3,875 people. The NFL Draft has always employed a multi-use space that includes a stage for announcing the picks, an adjoining green room for players and their families, a working floor space for all the teams doing their wheeling and dealing, two perched areas for television — both NFL Network and ESPN have live coverage of the draft all three days — a media work space, an interview area and seating for fans, because what’s the NFL Draft without uninformed fanatics booing a team’s picks?
With Brady specifically noting the NFL wants to use the Parkway, the locations for an inside option are very limited, especially considering how the NFL used both inside and outside venues in tandem in Chicago.
Commissioner Roger Goodell officially started the Chicago drafts inside Draft Town, in front of the attending NFL fans, before hustling back to the auditorium to announce the first pick. The trek from the east side of Buckingham Fountain to the Auditorium Theatre is roughly a seven minute walk, though given the commissioner was escorted in some sort of mobile transport, he was able to make the trip in less time.
Brady assumed the NFL would want the draft backdrop to be the Art Museum, which would create the best visuals for television. But it would create a logistical issue for the NFL should they opt to use the Convention Center for the parts of the draft conducted inside.
It’s a 30-plus minute walk from the Art Museum to the Convention Center (16 minutes by bicycle or other similarly-paced vehicle), which would be difficult but not impossible for the league to pull off. TV would absolutely hate it.
The league could opt to use Logan Square for Draft Town, with the backdrop being the Franklin Institute, though given the logistical concerns of that traffic circle on a normal day, it’s hard to imagine the city approving a three or four day shut down of that area. And that assumes the league will want to use the Convention Center, which is huge and has an area that accommodates a stage (where the Forbes Under 30 conference was held) but it’s not the same as a theater.
The NFL could choose to conduct part of the event inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which does say its “large, open spaces offer accommodations for up to 6,000 guests.”
Yet given the clientele at the NFL Draft, it’s hard to imagine the Art Museum is a good fit to host the NFL Draft. For either party.
The most sensible decision would be to hold the event, like the DNC, at the Wells Fargo Center, with Draft Town taking place in the parking lot next to the arena, spilling onto the playing surface at Lincoln Financial Field. Knowing the NFL, the league isn’t coming to Philly unless it can take over the town, and putting up a stage up in a South Philly parking lot ain’t that.
The other option, and perhaps the only viable one given Brady’s comments, is to hold the entire event outside on the Parkway. All three days. If the concern is about inclement weather in Philly in late April, the league did host two years outdoors in Chicago — including during a terrible rain storm — and the television production had little to no issues, at least on-air. The logistics of creating a green room space and interview area outside in tents are workable, if not ideal if the weather isn’t cooperative. Those putting on the event surely would prefer the certainty of an indoor venue, but again, this is the NFL. They do what they want, and even Mother Nature can’t stop them.
When asked about the logistics of hosting the event in Philadelphia given the relative constraints of the Parkway venue, McCarthy didn’t bite, offering only that a deal with Philly, or any city, has yet to be finalized.
As for the reported $5 million the city is willing to put up, that should prove to be a sound investment. Per the NFL release before the 2016 event, Chicago’s first draft was a bit of a windfall for the city:
The Draft generated a total economic impact of $81.6 million, according to a Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University study commissioned by the Chicago Sports Commission. Half of the attendees were from outside Chicago and generated 31,000 hotel nights; Another 5,600 hotel nights came from NFL staff, sponsors and media.
There are a lot of reasons why Philly isn’t a good fit for the 2017 NFL Draft, but if the city sees a 15-times return on its investment, none of those other reasons will matter.