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Ed Newton

Could cost overruns in Philly push the NFL Draft away next year?

Building trades spokesman denies rumored overages: “There was no budget. None.”

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Ed Newton
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Updated, 4:35 p.m.

Was the NFL Draft in Philly too expensive?

The draft, which drew raves from national media and record crowds, saw a 3,000-seat stage area built in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as an elaborate Fan Experience. Some 5,000 workers, including electricians, carpenters and stage handlers, spent weeks building a stage equipped with fixtures needed for a live broadcast, jumbotron screens, a media area, a replica of the Art Museum and several activity areas for fans. Traffic was blocked and parking restricted starting April 10, and the cleanup will continue for about another week.

Before the draft had even ended, rumors began circulating that the NFL was not happy with cost overruns on the build-out of the stage, particularly because of the city’s building trades unions.

So we put the question to Frank Keel, spokesman for the Building Trades. Here was his response:

“The Philadelphia Building Trades has received nothing but praise and positive reviews from the NFL, ESPN and all entities involved in the 2017 NFL Draft. Rumors of cost-overruns are baseless because there was no budget established by the NFL. None. Remember, the NFL is one of the wealthiest, most successful organizations on the planet. The city and the Trades had much less lead time‎ than Chicago and other prior host cities but, over the span of a few short weeks, the Trades still built the largest stage in the draft’s history and an interactive NFL fan experience and village that enthralled 250,000 people over three days.

“Should the league decide to come back next year – and it should – Building Trades Business Manager John J. Dougherty, who helped bring the draft here in the first place, would love to start the planning process much further in advance to value engineer the event and contain costs to the greatest degree possible. There is no question that Philadelphia set a new standard of excellence for the NFL Draft. The league would be wise to come back to Philly next year and replicate this year’s success.”

The NFL has never publicly stated how much the draft would cost. But since last summer, when Philadelphia was awarded the draft, a $25 million budget has been discussed. That number was put forth most prominently by the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, as well as local political leaders. At a press conference last September, PHLCVB president and CEO Julie Coker Graham said the budget was $25 million, saying the city and CVB would cover $5 million and suggesting the NFL’s budget was $20 million.

“A little over $25 million is the total budget,” Coker Graham said in September. “A significant part of that is to be covered by the NFL in terms of the build-out, which they’ll be doing on the Parkway. And then the remaining balance is going to be fundraised with a public/private partnership.

“There will be a budget we are going in with.”

A spokesperson for the CVB said the organization was not aware of costs being higher than anticipated.

When the NFL hosted the draft in Chicago in 2015 and 2016, it drew scrutiny for not releasing how much it was spending on the event. A league spokesperson was quoted in the Chicago Tribune only saying the draft cost “millions.”

The stage in Philadelphia was described last month by Local 107 union leader Shawn Dougherty as “the most technical stage we have done.” A release from Local 107 stated the technical work eclipsed what the union had done on stages for Beyonce, the Democratic National Convention and Pope Francis’ visit.

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Dan Levy/Billy Penn

Congressman Bob Brady, who last year was the first to say Philly was awarded the 2017 draft, said he had not heard anything about cost overruns and had heard only positive reviews for the city.

“They make so much money,” Brady said of the NFL. “They don’t have to worry about too much cost overruns. I don’t think any other city could do what we did with our workmanship and what the unions did….You couldn’t get a better visual.

“I think the only thing they were worrying about was whether we could pull it off and whether it could be well-attended. Everything they thought would happen, happened in our favor.”

After the draft, the NFL released a statement by Peter O’Reilly, NFL senior vice president of events, who said, “Philadelphia has been a fantastic host and in our eyes, the bar has been raised for what the draft is and can be.”

When asked about Keel’s claim that the NFL never provided a budget, the league referred us to O’Reilly’s original statement.

ESPN, in early April, reported Dallas was the favorite to host the 2018 NFL Draft, listing Philadelphia, Green Bay and Kansas City as other contenders. The article stated the draft would be held at the Cowboys’ palatial new practice facility in the Dallas suburbs.

Traditionally, East Coast cities such as Philadelphia have a reputation as being more costly and more complicated for sports-related construction than those in other areas of the country. In Philly for instance, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, median hourly wages for electricians, carpenters and construction laborers are significantly higher than in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Electricians make a median hourly wage of $30.53 here and $20.14 there, carpenters $27.39 here and $17.27 there.

The NFL has given no indication for when it would decide the location of next year’s draft. Philadelphia was officially announced as the host for 2017 last September. Brady said he was confident the draft would be back here for 2018.

“They loved the city, they loved the event, they loved the people,” he said. “I’ve heard they’re very interested in coming back.”