One needs to look no further than Arrowhead Stadium on a fall Sunday to find passionate NFL fans, and sports leaders in KC believe that enthusiasm makes the region an ideal candidate for one of the premier events on the league’s annual calendar, the NFL draft.
“We always have ‘what’s that next big event’ on our radar as a sports commission and a city,” said Kathy Nelson, president & CEO of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation. “We’re always working in tandem with everyone with the Chiefs about what would it take.”
The NFL’s request for interest in the draft covers the 2019 to 2023 drafts. It remains unclear if the NFL seeks a different city for each year or a host for multiple drafts. The league has yet to announce a location for the 2018 draft, however, both Philadelphia and Dallas reportedly stand as possible locations.
The sports commission along with several community partners have officially submitted their expression of interest to the NFL. The partnership includes the Chiefs, the City of Kansas City, Mo., and Visit KC as well as potential venues and area hotels, among others.
The Chiefs issued a statement Tuesday supporting the effort to bring the draft to Kansas City.
“We are extremely excited to work with the many supporters and partners in Kansas City to put together a compelling bid to bring the NFL Draft to Chiefs Kingdom,” the statement reads. “The NFL Draft is a national event coveted by many cities across the country and we believe that it provides another unique opportunity to put Kansas City in the national spotlight.”
Kansas City is one of several cities submitting a bid for hosting the draft. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, during a visit to Kansas City in June, said he believes that pairing of the draft and the metro region could fit well.
He noted that 14 cities sent representatives to this year’s draft in Philadelphia for improving their own submissions to host the draft.
“The game and the standards keep going up,” Goodell said. “But I think this community, in fact I met with some of them when we were in Philadelphia, I think they could do a great job with the draft.”
Nelson said the league requested three different potential locations for the draft. Each location requires a theater facility as well as an outdoor space for fan festival activities. The proposal also includes requirements for hotel rooms, transportation, security and other infrastructure needs.
“Then we had to identify some other key venues and unique spaces that would really make sure the draft in our city is successful and iconic,” Nelson said.
Kansas City’s submission includes three distinct districts for hosting the draft:
- Historic district: includes the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Union Station and the National World War I Museum and Memorial;
- Grand Boulevard district: includes the Power & Light District, Sprint Center, the Midland Theatre and the Kansas City Convention Center; and
- Truman Sports Complex: utilizing Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium along with parking lots for tailgating areas.
Nelson believes Kansas City’s easy access for football fans makes the city an appealing destination for the NFL. She noted Kansas City’s location within a day’s drive for 55 million people. The city’s location places it within a three-hour flight from anywhere in the continental United States.
“That makes it pretty easy to get to, come enjoy something, spend the night and get back the next day or spend the weekend here,” Nelson said.
Kansas City’s bid also leans heavily on its connections to military facilities across the Midwest. Nelson noted the location of 23 military bases within a 300-mile radius of Kansas City, including Whiteman Air Force Base, Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley. The commission’s pitch to the NFL proposes an aggressive strategy for engaging military personnel with the event.
“I think that will stand out,” Nelson said.
Nelson said Kansas City meets the league’s minimum requirements for 3-, 4- and 5-star hotel rooms for 2019 including facilities under development. The bid, however, also includes a proposed convention hotel next to Bartle Hall as a potential asset starting in 2020.
“For us that hotel that is critical in securing and continuing to secure events like this,” Nelson said.
New York City hosted the NFL draft from 1965 to 2014, mostly in hotel ballrooms before moving to locations such as The Theater at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall.
The drafted moved to Chicago in 2015-16, setting a new standard for mixing the NFL draft with an outdoor plaza allowing more fans to engage in the festivities.
The draft moved to Philadelphia this year, with the city’s famed Philadelphia Museum of Art as the backdrop. The museum’s notable features include the “Rocky Steps” made famous for its including in the movie Rocky.
Nelson and other sports commission officials visited the drafts in Chicago and Philadelphia. Those trips helped in game planning for putting together the bid to bring the event to Kansas City.
Goodell said the NFL brings a tremendous platform to communities and provides a substantial economic impact.
“But also the event’s become much bigger than it ever has and it takes more infrastructure,” Goodell said. “Even our draft recently in Philadelphia, it set a new standard. It created a new event, 250,000 people.”
Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley said in June that landing the NFL draft in would be “awesome” for the team, fans and the city.
“I think getting a Super Bowl here or a draft here, just the more events and the more people that can come through here, the more eyes that are on the city, I think it will just be a huge benefit to the people who are here,” Conley said. “I think everyone will fall in love with it the way I have.”
Rabid football fans in Kansas City provide a compelling attraction to the NFL, Goodell said.
“To me it’s about passion,” the commissioner said. “It’s about passion and having your own experience for a draft that’s going to reflect well on this community and football.”