The belief that attendance at this year's Philly-based NFL Draft Experience could outdo last year is strengthened by the number of people already registered for the event, taking place April 27 - 29.
In the 16 days leading up to March 21, the NFL said that 156,000 people had registered to partake in its Draft Experience, a 225 percent increase over the 48,000 people who registered to attend last year’s draft in Chicago. More than that, the NFL added, it’s the greatest number of fans to sign up for the event, ever.
Larry Needle, executive director of PHL Sports — a division of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau that helped bring the draft to Philly — said that people from all 50 states registered, the most of which came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Delaware.
“The excitement is already out there and starting to build,” Needle said.
Jeremy Jordan, director of Temple University’s Sport Industry Research Center, studied the event’s impact on Chicago in 2015 and 2016. He said that Philadelphia’s proximity to major football markets could help overall attendance swell beyond the 225,000 people Chicago attracted last year.
“Having several NFL franchises like the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins, and the Baltimore Ravens within a couple-hundred-mile radius makes Philly a prime location,” Jordan said. “I think it will be a significant driver of tourism to the city, especially if the weather’s good.”
Going off of Chicago’s numbers, Needle expects the draft to generate more than $80 million for the Philadelphia region, a large chunk of which would be spent by out-of-towners on things like food, beverages, lodging, retail shopping, transportation, entertainment and tourist attractions. A total of $6.8 million in new tax revenue could be generated at the state and local levels.
The convention and visitors bureau says the Draft Experience will be the “largest festival footprint ever created by the NFL, spanning the size of nearly twenty-five football fields.” As such, the bureau anticipates that 26,000 jobs will be supported through the hospitality, transportation, and construction sectors.
Beyond its short-term impact, Needle says the draft would help further establish Philly as a destination for various large-scale events, especially after it hosted Pope Francis’ visit in 2015 and the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
“We’ve got this trifecta of religious, political, and sports mega events in back-to-back-to-back years, which is probably unprecedented in recent history,” Needle said. “The draft is also an opportunity for us to reach a new audience and bring in fans that perhaps haven’t been to Philly in the last 10 to 20 years, allowing them to experience what the city is like today.”
Needle expects half of the Draft’s attendees to be from outside of the area. And, ideally, once they get a taste of Philly, they’ll want to come back for more.
U.S. Congressman Robert Brady, a Democrat from Philadelphia who played a role in bringing the draft to the city, expects they’ll want to. Anecdotally, he said colleagues are still hitting him up for restaurant and entertainment recommendations since Philly hosted the DNC.
“We’ve got great culture, museums, tourist attractions like the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, the National Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell,” Brady said. “And these events enhance our profile even more.”
Millions of people from around the world will be watching the draft on ESPN, too, Needle points out.
“Those who can’t make it will be able to see Philly in all of its glory over national television,” Needle said.
For those who can make the free event, to be held along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philly’s Draft Experience will include games, virtual reality experiences and player autograph sessions, among other family-friendly activities. The draft itself will unfold in a theater that’s being constructed on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The theater’s design could make this year’s draft even more appealing than those in years’ past, Needle said, because it will give all fans a taste of the Draft’s proceedings — ticket or not.
“It will be open-air, which will allow every fan to come down to the parkway and catch the event firsthand,” Needle said.