“We’ve got 58 days to go.”
To call Ron Jaworski, co-chair of the Philadelphia Draft Host Committee, excited is an understatement. Jaworski’s voice bellowed throughout the Philadelphia Museum of Art Tuesday morning, as the City and the NFL announced specifics for the upcoming NFL Draft and ensuing three-day tailgate party, sponsored by Dannon Oikos Triple Zero. Because when you think about the NFL Draft in Philly, who doesn’t think about fat-and-sugar-free Greek yogurt?
NFL Senior VP of Events Peter O’Reilly announced some of the very elaborate plans for transforming the Parkway, including a 3,000-seat viewing arena, 100-yard zip line and a full fan fest that will stretch from the Art Museum — where the players will wait to be selected — all the way to the Franklin Institute, where the 32 teams will be making the actual picks.
In between the buildings will be what the NFL is calling the “largest free fan experience” they’ve ever built, with 25 football fields of yogurt- and non-yogurt-related events for fans to enjoy. Work out like you’re going to the NFL Combine. Use a VR helmet to make it feel like you’re on an NFL field, and take hits without the lingering debilitative effects of CTE! Get a picture with the Lombardi Trophy, and go through a makeshift NFL museum the league will set up during the week. Check out a plethora of college football memorabilia, meet a ton of old Eagles players and visit a Philly-style walkabout with “some of Philadelphia’s best restaurants” setting up a ‘taste of the town’ tailgate.”
Jaws boasted during the press conference that the NFL Draft will provide an $80-million impact on the city. He said with more than 1,700 media in attendance and an estimated 200,000 people coming to the Parkway during the week, “that’s going to fill hotel rooms, that’s going to fill restaurants and that’s going to be big for our business community.”
Jaworski said during his remarks they are “almost at 70 percent of our goal. Almost 70 percent. We’ve got 58 days to go. We will achieve that goal.” The total money needed is “about $5 million,” Jaworski told Billy Penn, saying he feels “very good about it. It’s been very well received by the business community. People want to help out and make it a spectacular event.”
Based on his calculations, the committee has to raise another $1.5 million in the next 58 days. Now that the plans are taking shape, he is confident he can hit that number.
The plans are taking shape
While the money is still 30 percent up in the air, the logistics for the draft seem more solid now than a few months ago. O’Reilly was finally able to answer the most important question from a few months back when the initial announcement was made: Will the drafted players run up the steps, or walk down?
The “Rocky” steps are a big part of why the NFL wants to have the draft in Philly, so it’s important for the organizers to use the steps the right way.
“The red carpet will come out to the terrace [of the Art Museum] and then into the green room behind,” O’Reilly told me. “When they are picked, they will come down, and we are building the theatre right into the steps. It’ll be, I don’t know how many steps, but one of those landings they will walk down and we’re going to keep it raw so you see the steps on there.”
“The behavior is running up,” O’Reilly admitted, “but they’ll walk down.”
The players’ entrance will be built into the existing structure, so the drafted players will walk down a path with fans seated on either side of them to a podium where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be waiting to shake their hands and bro-hug the living heck out of them.
“Once they’re picked, in some form to do their media, we want to get them through a gauntlet of fans.”
Tickets for the 3,000 seats will be given out using a lottery system, but fans in attendance at the Draft Experience will have the opportunity to be “upgraded,” as organizers put it, to seats as the picks are called. No word if the upgrade involves free yogurt.
Both the NFL Network and ESPN will have sets outside the Art Museum for fans to hang out and hope to get on TV, and the NFL said they want the fans to be able to experience the interview process as soon as the players have been drafted.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney opened the press conference by sharing his pride in his hometown, unsolicitedly calling out fans around the country by saying, “I don’t care what anybody in the country says about our fans. We are passionate, we are knowledgable and we are loyal.”
Kenney said the event on the Parkway will be “interactive, family-friendly and free of cost.”
“Not to all of us,” he joked, squarely looking at Eagles president Don Smolenski, other City leaders and Jaworski, “but free of cost to those who come.”
Jaworski touted the legacy program the organizers have put in place, so the economic impact of having the NFL Draft here lasts more than the three days the city has to deal with all the awful Cowboys and Jets fans who will undoubtedly show up.
“The legacy program is going to be great,” Jaworski said. “It’s going to help in building playgrounds. Building ballfields. Giving kids proper equipment. We’re not just going to be here for three days. There is going to be a legacy program that will be everlasting for the kids of Philadelphia.”
The NFL Draft starts Thursday, April 27. The Fan Experience begins at noon that day. Surely, there will be yogurt.