10 Cities the NFL Should Consider for the Draft
The NFL pushed back the draft two weeks in 2014 due to a conflict at Radio City Music Hall in New York, but more changes could be on the horizon. According to Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, the NFL is now considering other changes to the draft including multiple cities in the same year or different NFL cities each year.
As part of the changes, teams would submit the picks electronically and the draft would shift even more to being a fan-focused event. Meanwhile, the NFL continues pursuing opportunities to expand the game to London because it believes the U.S. market is becoming saturated.
A strategy the NFL should consider is saturating markets that don’t have NFL teams by hosting the draft in those cities. The NFL can’t expect a market without a team to be fully saturated, so there could be considerable money to be made in those markets.
Of course, not just any city can host an event like the NFL draft. Any host city would need to have enough infrastructure to make such an event logistically feasible. Per Banks, the NFL envisions cities competing for the right to play host to the draft just like the Super Bowl, but on a smaller scale.
Why not open up the bidding to non-NFL cities with the proper facilities? If the NFL wants to truly saturate the U.S. market, hosting the draft in non-NFL cities may be the way to do it.
Los Angeles, CA
The NFL wants to put one or two teams in the nation’s second-largest television market, but until then it could move the draft to the Los Angeles area. There would be no trouble finding space, even if the six professional sports teams in the area were all in action.
If anything, the NFL should relish the opportunity to steal eyeballs from the MLB, NBA and NHL. Los Angeles will also draw NFL fans from around the country and is within reasonable driving distance for fans from four NFL cities (Oakland, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego).
In the absence of a team in Los Angeles, it seems like an ideal location to host the NFL draft. NFL Network is based out of the Los Angeles area and the event would attract all sorts of Hollywood types that would further broaden the appeal of the event to the casual fan.
Orlando is the one major market in Florida without an NFL team and is also the home of Disneyworld. One of the parks at Disneyworld is ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. Orlando is a destination spot for business conventions, so there is more than enough space to accommodate an event like the draft.
Not only is Orlando a sizeable market on its own, but it’s also within a few hours of three NFL markets. If the NFL wanted to make the draft an event for fans, Orlando might be the ideal spot.
The weather is good and people could plan family trips to Disneyworld around draft weekend. Unless the Orlando Magic make the playoffs, the NFL draft would also be the only professional sports going on in the area.
Florida is also obsessed with football, even if its professional teams haven’t been good for a several years. Like the Super Bowl, a draft event in a city with good weather just makes more sense.
Like Orlando, the NFL wouldn’t have much competition in Sacramento in April or May. The capital of the most populated state in the U.S. only has one professional sports team despite being the 20th largest market.
Sacramento is also less than two hours from Oakland and San Francisco, so hordes of NFL fans could make the trip down Interstate 80 to take part in the draft festivities. There is a large convention center with plenty of space and the entire downtown area will be revitalized within a few years of the opening of the new arena for the Sacramento Kings.
If the NFL wanted to maintain some of the nostalgia of holding the draft in a historic building like Radio City Music Hall, it could host the main draft event at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium. Sacramento is also desperate to put itself on the map, so it would probably yield to the NFL’s demands for tax breaks, a portion of tax revenues generated by the event and below-market prices for the leasing of the facilities.
While Portland might seem like a weird place to have the NFL draft, it’s bigger than 13 markets with NFL teams. Portland is also a short drive from Seattle, so there would still be an NFL market to draw fans to the event.
Portland comes with its share of drawbacks (like weather), but the draft is an indoor event. The fifth-largest market on the West Coast boasts a good transit system and tech-based economy that ought to make Portland at least somewhat attractive to the NFL.
Soccer and other sports have gained considerable traction in the Pacific Northwest and the NFL draft could be the type of event that keeps the casual football fan from drifting away.
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City hosted the Olympic Games, so an event like the NFL draft wouldn’t overwhelm the 33rd-largest television market in the nation. Salt Lake City also has a busy airport and is a passionate football city with two football-crazed universities.
The closest NFL city is an eight-hour drive away from Salt Lake City, so it would be a true destination fan event. Salt Lake City is certainly big enough to pull off such an event, but a conflict with the Utah Jazz and proximity to an NFL city could make it a risky locale for a league that’s driven by the dollar.
Despite some drawbacks, the market size and infrastructure is there for a draft event. Salt Lake City might not be the first choice to host the draft, but would be a good choice once a rotating model is established.
Let’s face it: football and Texas are nearly synonymous and yet there are only two NFL teams in the state. Austin is one of the two major cities in Texas that doesn’t have an NFL team, but fans from Dallas and Houston are only about a three-hour drive away.
The great thing about Austin is that there is very little competition. Austin is a relatively large city without any professional sports teams. The University of Texas at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center also holds over 16,000, which is considerably bigger than Radio City Music Hall in New York.
A high concentration of football fans, a market without competition and the realistic infrastructure for the draft make Austin an ideal choice. An arena event is possible in Austin, which may create a more intimate fan experience than a big indoor stadium and allow for more fans to attend than a smaller theatre setting.
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio is a bit smaller than Austin and the Spurs are perennial contenders in the NBA, but the city would still be a good choice for a draft event. Located right on the famous River Walk, San Antonio boasts an excellent convention center that would be ideal for the draft.
Not only does San Antonio have the facilities for a top-notch draft event, but the city is no more than a five-hour direct flight from any NFL city. If the NFL wants to make the draft a fan-friendly event, it would help if they didn’t have to fly 3,000 miles to attend.
San Antonio also has a Sea World, a Six Flags and there is a huge water park in a neighboring city. Fans that want to attend the event from out of town can bring the whole family. The weather in San Antonio is also typically mild in April and May, so there shouldn’t be any huge concern about that impacting events like a northern location.
Like Austin, Birmingham has no major professional sports franchises. Unlike Austin, Birmingham has an abundance of space to hold a draft event.
The mayor of the city of Birmingham has embraced the idea of building a new downtown multipurpose facility to attract various sporting events. The NFL draft would be one such event the city could attract if the NFL is open to hosting the draft in a non-NFL city.
Birmingham is also the home of the Southeastern Conference, which just happens to be the consensus best conference in college football. The SEC tends to send the most players to the NFL, so there is natural link between the two when it comes to the draft.
Like some of the other cities, Birmingham could draw NFL fans from a neighboring NFL city (Atlanta is just a two-hour drive away). Birmingham is also a decent-sized market, bigger than a few NFL cities.
Las Vegas, NV
The NFL will never go for it, but Las Vegas would be a great place to host the draft. Las Vegas has more theatres and convention space than you can imagine, so the NFL could really go big with the pomp and circumstance of the event.
Vegas is a destination city, but it’s also not far from Los Angeles. If the NFL wants to turn the draft into an event like the Super Bowl, it may need more than the allure of hope to sell to fans. The NFL could sell the NFL player lifestyle with the draft in Vegas, if only for a weekend.
Of course, the NFL and every other professional team have stayed away from Vegas because of the gambling issue, but the draft is so unpredictable that the concern is really a nonstarter. Vegas is nearly perfect, but chances are the NFL won’t see it that way.
The Pro Bowl stinks. We know it and the NFL knows it. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced via NFL.com in May that the NFL was exploring bringing the game back the Mainland in 2015 and will continue to tweak the format to make it more fan friendly.
The only incentive for the players to play in the game right now is the excuse to take a trip to Hawaii and the small stipend the league pays for playing in the game. That’s not very enticing for a veteran player that is probably already making a lot of money, but a rookie that hasn’t been drafted might jump at the opportunity.
Sitting in the green room might be a lot more tolerable with a trip to Hawaii and a few Mai Tais. More rookies might opt to make the trip to the draft than stay home if it means getting a Hawaiian vacation. More draft picks attending the draft should create a better experience for the fans in attendance and watching on television.
Taking the Pro Bowl away from Honolulu also just seems wrong, but it’s an event that is dying a cruel, slow death anyway. Giving the draft to Honolulu would be a way to keep the tradition of the NFL in Hawaii alive.