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VOL. 42 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 18, 2018

Landing the NFL Draft is fine, but how about a Super Bowl?

By John Glennon

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One after another, many of the nation’s top sporting events are finding their way to Nashville. News that Music City is playing host to the 2019 NFL Draft really came as no surprise, considering the city’s other recent sports successes here.

The NHL All-Star game was a headliner in 2016, along with the NCAA women’s Final Four of 2014, while the SEC men’s basketball tournament has basically taken up residence at Bridgestone Arena.

Throw in the regular appearances by U.S. Soccer at Nissan Stadium – including two recent stops that drew more than 40,000 fans – and it’s easy to see why Nashville has quickly climbed the list of those who deliver big-time sporting events.

“I think the music brand is real here, and people also kind of get immersed in Nashville as a destination – with the close proximity of restaurants, bars, hotels and so many venues,” says Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.

“It seems like every single group over the last 10 years – if they’ve had something here, they leave going, `Wow, how easy, fun, good, professional and unique was that?’ Those things are what keep us going.”

So, with all the big-time events that have come to Nashville in recent years, it’s only natural to wonder whether Music City might soon find itself host to some of the biggest whoppers – like the Super Bowl, the NCAA men’s Final Four or the BCS national championship football game.

The Super Bowl, after all, has ventured into less-traditional sites like Indianapolis, New Jersey and Minneapolis since 2012, so it would hardly be out of bounds to consider Nashville as a landing spot.

Most studies figure a Super Bowl injects hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy, with Rockport Analytics estimating Super Bowl XLVI brought $278 million to Indianapolis’ gross domestic product when the game was played there in 2012.

“I think the success of the events we’ve had, the continual performance of the downtown and our city, the energy and excitement we’ve delivered, and the positive feedback post-events would all be pluses,” explains Scott Ramsey, executive director of the Nashville Sports Council.

“It’s a pretty small industry, and decision-makers talk with one another. I think it would certainly put us in line if we’re able to (show) a facility that can compete with some of these new ones that are out there already hosting these types of events.”

Stadium key to Super Bowl

Both Spyridon and Ramsey are in agreement that as strong a reputation as Music City has developed as a sports-host city over the years, change would be necessary at Nissan Stadium before an event like the Super Bowl could come to Nashville.

“I think something like hosting the NFL Draft would certainly send a message, letting the NFL know we’re an NFL-caliber city,” Spyridon points out. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the stadium before we can even have that conversation.

“What are the enhancements going to be? What are we going to do? The stadium is 20 years old. The next few years, that will be a topic of conversation, I think in a good way.”

The NFL has indeed set a precedent over the last several years of delivering the Super Bowl to cities that build lavish new stadiums – almost as a form of re-payment.

Examples include Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium (2018 Super Bowl), Houston’s NRG Stadium (2017), northern California’s Levi’s Stadium (2016), New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium (2014) and Dallas’ Cowboys Stadium (2011).

“I think right now the Super Bowl question, right up there with the men’s Final Four and the national college football championship game ... I’d wrap those three events together and say they’re entirely tied to what’s the (next step) for our facility here,” Ramsey points out.

“I think when you look at the Super Bowl, Final Fours and national championship game, you look at the (new) facilities – whether it’s Vegas or L.A., or facilities like Houston and Indianapolis and Atlanta, and I think those are the type facilities you’re going to be competing against for those kinds of events.”

Does that mean Nashville needs a domed stadium like Indianapolis to protect against the potential of cold weather in January and February?

“I think where we are weather-wise, at least at the time of the national championship game and the Super Bowl, it’s going to be awfully difficult for a 25-year-old facility, despite how well we’ve kept it up, to compete against those other kinds of facilities head to head,” Ramsey adds.

“I think we have all the infrastructure and the necessary elements (in Nashville), but I think it’s also awfully hard to pitch a mid-January, natural-grass, open-air stadium in competing with those venues I mentioned that are coming on line.”

The 2019 NFL Draft is expected to draw approximately 20,000 to 25,000 out-of-town visitors, which will generate a significant number of hotel bookings.

It is anticipated that the three-day event will be broadcast on four networks, which will generate substantial national marketing for the city.

Mayor David Briley: “The NFL Draft will be another wonderful opportunity to bring the sports world to Nashville and show off everything our city has to offer. I appreciate all the hard work the Convention & Visitors Corp, the Titans and others have put into our winning bid. We’re looking forward to hosting the other 31 NFL teams, the league’s future stars, the fans, and the national and international media next spring.”

Amy Adams Strunk, Tennessee Titans Controlling Owner: “We are thrilled for the city of Nashville, our fans and our team that we have been selected to host the 2019 NFL Draft. The city and the Titans put a lot of effort into this proposal, and we can’t wait to see it come to life next year. I personally would like to thank Commissioner Goodell and the NFL for this opportunity; Metro Nashville Government, led by Mayor David Briley; Butch Spyridon at the CVC; Scott Ramsey at the Sports Council and all those who have contributed to this effort. Nashville is known as an entertainment destination, and we look forward to showing the football world what that looks like on a very big stage.”

Butch Spyridon, president and CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp: “Nashville is honored to host the 2019 NFL Draft. We are prepared to deliver a unique Music City experience and an NFL-caliber event. I would like to thank the Titans and owner, Amy Adams Strunk, for their support and the NFL for their confidence.”

At the April 2018 draft, which was held in Dallas, more than 2,000 credentialed media covered the event and over 45 million broadcast viewers watched it over the course of three days on three national networks.

Philadelphia hosted the 2017 NFL Draft and reported $56.1 million in direct spending and $7.9 million in state and local taxes. Attendance over three days was 250,000, representing 42 different states. The room nights sold figure was 18,991.

-- Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

The Super Bowl has been played outdoors recently in Santa Clara, California, and East Rutherford, New Jersey, so Spyridon isn’t sure whether a dome is a necessary requirement here.

“I think (the NFL) would prefer that, but I don’t know that it’s a complete deal-killer (if it doesn’t happen),” Spyridon says. “I know a domed stadium would raise the chances and certainly open up other events. But you might be able to do something similar to what the old Cowboys’ stadium was, where the seats were mainly covered but the field was open.”

The “Rocky” draft ruled

In the meantime, of course, there is the matter of the 2019 NFL Draft, scheduled for April 25-27.

Held after months of build-up regarding the best college players, the NFL Draft has grown into one of the biggest and most anticipated sporting events of the year.

The first round of last month’s draft, for instance, drew an average of 11.2 million viewers, five times the viewers who tuned in for the NBA playoff game between Boston and Milwaukee on the same night.

This year marked the first time that all three days of the draft were aired on broadcast television, which helped it set a record as the highest-rated and most-watched draft in history.

The draft was held in New York from 1965 through 2014, but the NFL has moved it around since, going to Chicago in 2015 and 2016, Philadelphia in 2017 and Dallas in 2018.

A Temple University report produced following the Philadelphia draft stated the event had a total estimated economic impact of $94.9 million, which included direct spending by attendees and event organizers (the NFL) totaling $56.1 million.

The draft’s three-day attendance in Philadelphia was estimated at 250,000, which included 63 percent from out of town – 17 percent of whom chose to spend at least one night at paid accommodations.

“It was really just a huge boost for our hospitality industry over the course of that week,” says Larry Needle, executive director of PHL sports, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“So, on many levels, I think economically, it was a great win for the city. There were tens of thousands of visitors that came in to see us and enjoyed Philadelphia during that week. So it was felt by the hotels and the restaurants and the Uber drivers and the attractions, certainly everyone connected with hospitality. We felt very good about that.”

The city of Philadelphia also earned plenty of intangible benefits from hosting the draft, which was situated at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Draftees walked down Philly’s famous “Rocky” steps after hearing their name called, winding up not far from the famous “Rocky” statue.

“We decided to put our best foot forward as a city … and we thought that area worked on many levels,” Needle says. “It worked aesthetically as a beautiful place to be, and it worked very nicely from a messaging standpoint or metaphorically. “This was each of those players’ “Rocky” moment, and for them to be able to have that success and be on those steps really meant so much to so many people.”

Music City makeover

Much like each of the new cities hosting the NFL draft to over the last four years, Nashville anticipates it can wrap the event in its own identity. Who doesn’t know what Music City is all about by now?

“When the NFL told cities like Philadelphia and Dallas that they wanted each draft to take on the personality of that city, well, I think we can do that as well or better than any of the other cities in the league,” Spyridon says.

“With our music brand, with our entertainment package, with the close proximity of our venues, I think we give it a different light, and then we’ll give it star power.”

Ramsey says Nashville’s track record of successfully hosting big events plays into the city’s favor as well.

“I know (Spyridon) and the CVC presented the NFL with multiple options of what (downtown) looked like for CMA Fest, what it looked like for the NHL All-Star game, what it looked like for the Preds’ run (to the Stanley Cup Final), and some things we can do in and around the stadium,” Ramsey adds.

“When you’re thinking of a festival type of nature of this event, with 100,000 plus folks, I think we’ve got a lot of great examples of successful events, to show we can be pretty flexible in that regard.”

The NFL Draft usually features a number of draft attractions for fans – not only the draft, itself, but the free and highly popular NFL Draft Experience. So, the fact that many of Nashville’s downtown sites – like Nissan Stadium and the Music City Center – are so close together would make life easy on fans traveling from one venue to another.

That accessibility doesn’t exist in some of the NFL’s bigger and more sprawling cities.

“It’s the ability to create that campus downtown, that really encapsulates not only the venues, but the entertainment district, the hotels, the walk-ability,” Ramsey adds.

“That sets us apart from other cities that need to transport and move people around to get them in certain places or trying to create what we have downtown naturally with the music scene and entertainment zone.

“That’s certainly a massive plus.”

Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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