Philadelphia is abuzz over the NFL Draft, which will take place on the Ben Franklin Parkway from April 27-29. Officials are expecting more than 200,000 fans, media, draftniks, passersby and people who made reservations at the Barnes on totally the wrong weekend, all milling around the space between the Art Museum and Franklin Institute for a three-day festival of football. Just across the Schuylkill River, another sporting event, one of Philly’s long-lasting annual happenings, will be flooded with its own many thousands of fans, participants, media and touristy types.
Yes, the Penn Relays — one of the premier track & field events in the country — is also taking place during the last weekend in April. This seems … what’s the word … poorly planned. But nobody — not the city, not the NFL, not Penn — ever even thought about budging.
Obviously there is no chance the NFL would move the draft off the last weekend of April after moving it to that weekend just a few years ago. The NFL off-season is meticulously scheduled, and there’s no chance another notable event in a city hosting the draft would scare off Big Football. The Pope and the DNC combined wouldn’t have scared off the NFL from taking over the Parkway, so there’s little chance a couple of dozen running races across a river would stop Roger Goodell and Co. from turning Philly into Draft City, USA.
The bigger question, though, is did the Penn Relays ever think about changing their schedule?
Penn Associate Director of Athletic Communications Krissy Woods, tasked with handling the Penn Relays, told us there was never a thought of moving the event because of the NFL Draft.
“As for moving the relays,” she wrote in an email, “we’re in our 123[rd] year now, so changing the date wasn’t considered.”
The Penn Relays date back to 1895, attracting more than 5,000 people to Philadelphia for the inaugural event. Obviously, throughout the years, the size and scope have grown. In the 1950s, the competing athletes alone totaled more than 4,000, with some 45,000 people showing up to watch the events. The modern event now boasts more than 20,000 participants and at least twice that in the stands throughout the weekend.
We asked Woods if anyone from the NFL had reached out to the university and at the time of our email exchange she had not been informed of any meetings or conversations. We asked the league the same question, wondering if anyone there had told Penn, “Hi, we’re stealing your weekend,” before the announcement had been made and league officials directed us to the city, which means no.
Reps for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau working on the NFL Draft told us Thursday that the city was meeting with representatives from Penn yesterday afternoon to work on some logistics for the upcoming busy weekend. The first order: Hotels.
Does the city have enough space for all these people?
“Hotel occupancy is strong during the week of the Draft,” a rep for the PHLCVB told us Friday morning.
“While the Penn Relays is a strong demand generator, Philadelphia has hosted major conventions on top of Penn Relays in the past. Both are major sporting events for the City, bringing in visitors from around the world; and we are successfully supporting both events. We expect to see not only Center City hotels do well, but also the surrounding region will benefit from the visitors that both of these events will bring to Philadelphia.”
Surely the hope is that most people will simply go home after each night of the draft. There’s a good chance many of the people coming into Philly for the draft are local enough to commute. A few hundred thousand people is a lot, sure, but the city itself has over 1.5 million residents, and there are more than four times that in the surrounding metropolitan area. Hotels should be packed, yes, but the Penn Relays people are unconcerned it will impact any of their participants from finding lodging.
Woods told us most of the teams involved in the Relays come back every year, so they maintain their reservations annually. She had not, as of Thursday, heard of any issues with teams traveling to Philadelphia having any issues with finding places to stay. She also said the school urges race-goers to use public transportation, so while SEPTA will surely be taxed with all the additional people trying to get around the city, it shouldn’t impact those heading over to Franklin Field enough to cause concern.
Per their statement regarding hotels, the PHLCVB seems unconcerned as well, while the NFL doesn’t care where people sleep, so long as it’s not on the actual Ben Franklin Parkway. After all, Philly is a big event city now.