It’s hard to explain how big the NFL Draft is until it shows up in your town.
“All eyes are really on your city,” said Decima Mullin, senior director of marketing for the tourism bureau in Arlington, Texas, which hosted the draft in 2018. “A lot of people have their own version of what they think a city is and that’s really a city’s chance to say, ‘This is who we are.’”
The event — where football teams pick the league’s top prospects to join their teams — is a three-day spectacle showcasing your city and all it has to offer. Millions of viewers watch from across the globe. Tens of thousands of visitors fill hotels, restaurants and bars.
It’s an opportunity for the host cities to show off what makes them special, Aubrey Walton, NFL director of event partnerships said in an interview.
“If anybody saw the draft on TV this year, it was one big constant commercial for the NFL and for Nashville and that’s what we can look forward to in Cleveland,” Cleveland Sports Commission David Gilbert said.
Estimates show Cleveland should expect 250,000 fans to attend the draft, or more, and at least $100 million in economic impact.
Cities who’ve hosted the event say while it’s a game-changer, it’s also a massive undertaking.
To put it in perspective? Nashville hosted 200,000 people for its New Year’s celebration this year. The draft was bigger.
“This was so different and so much more stressful,” said Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Visitors and Convention Corp.
Cleveland seems on track to host a draft similar to the Nashville event, held on the Lower Broadway strip of bars in April, and Las Vegas event, slated for the Strip of casinos next year.
Though the exact location in Cleveland hasn’t been announced, the NFL says the draft will be downtown and will include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those logistics differ dramatically from the Texas event, which was held about 20 miles outside of downtown Dallas at AT&T Stadium.
Here’s what we can learn from the drafts in Nashville and Arlington:
The draft isn’t just a sporting event.
“It was really hard to convey to the city what was coming,” Spyridon said.
People who had never attended the draft wrote the event off as nothing big: “‘It’s just the draft, players walk on stage the commissioner shakes their hand and what’s the big deal?’” Spyridon recalled hearing.
Once the show started, the big deal quickly became apparent.
About 600,000 people choked historic Broadway, home to the city’s famed honky-tonks, and the draft’s other sites, over three days. Rooftops were packed. Businesses nearby were asked to close early, workers were asked to work from home if they could. Hundreds of reporters came into town.
Spyridon said he didn’t realize the scope of the NFL draft’s worldwide broadcast going in. The enormity of the global stage hit him when he found out the event would be broadcast in South Korea.
He said it’s important to understand that the draft is, “not just a draft, it’s an event on a super-charged level.”
In Arlington, the draft wasn’t held in the city center, like in Nashville. And residents are pretty used to large-scale events being held at AT&T Stadium. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers played in the 2011 Super Bowl at the stadium.
The draft “was no different than us having another large-scale event. I think we’re probably a little different in that because we’re so used to it, it’s just part of our life now,” Mullin said.
Still there’s something special about the draft.
“It’s an electrifying feeling,” Mullin said. “It’s a feeling that can’t really be described until you’ve experienced it, but it is a feeling like no other.”
The draft is a chance to put the city’s personality on display.
Nashville wanted to put its mark on the draft. And in Music City, that meant live music. Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley performed. A house band played between picks.
“We wanted to make sure Nashville got the same amount of love that the NFL was getting from the camera,” Spyridon said.
For Cleveland, the Rock Hall will show the city’s flair.
The draft will likely be inconvenient for residents
In Nashville, the draft inconvenienced many workers and businesses. Parts of Broadway, a major downtown thoroughfare were shut down.
The draft was a bit different in Arlington in 2018, because it was held outside the city’s center, and inside a stadium. The 200,000 fans coming to the city didn’t perturb the city’s residents quite as much.