The 'draft experience' in Philly?

The stage is seen after Johnny Manziel is selected by the Browns. (Gregory Payan/AP)
The stage is seen after Johnny Manziel is selected by the Browns. (Gregory Payan/AP)
Posted: May 14, 2014

Remember when the NFL draft was so big that it was almost held in Camden?

Of course you don't. But it's true. It was 2005. The league was in what Brian McCarthy, one of its spokesmen, called a "transition year" as it moved the draft from the Theater at Madison Square Garden to Radio City Music Hall.

McCarthy said in an e-mail Monday that the NFL had been in discussions with the Eagles and representatives from several Philadelphia-area venues about hosting the draft, and among the potential sites was the Susquehanna Bank Center - although at the time that wasn't the official name of the concert complex on Camden's waterfront. In retrospect, one can only shudder at the number of strained Traveling Wilburys puns Chris Berman would have inflicted upon viewers had the Tweeter (and the Monkey Man) Center been selected.

Eventually, the NFL decided to keep the draft in New York, holding it at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center that year before settling into Radio City in 2006, but that long-ago flirtation with the Philadelphia area is relevant again after the last few days.

Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters last week that the NFL wants to "share the draft experience with as many communities as possible" and that Radio City, after a scheduling conflict pushed this year's draft back two weeks, would continue to be an uncertain location. Then, in a New York Times report Sunday, McCarthy included Philadelphia among the cities whose civic leaders were interested in hosting the draft, even if on just a temporary basis.

And what city wouldn't want in on that action? The NFL draft isn't just big anymore. It's Godzilla. It levels everything in its path. From now on, everyone should type the words in capital letters: THE DRAFT. The TV ratings for the first round, according to the league, shot up 50 percent from last year to this year.

On Thursday night, more people watched THE DRAFT on ESPN and the NFL Network than watched two NBA playoff games and two NHL playoff games combined.

In the face of THE DRAFT, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan might as well have been living in a Japanese fishing village. They started running, but it didn't matter. They still had no chance. Next month, the Wells Fargo Center will host the NHL draft, which, compared to THE DRAFT, might as well be an artisanal craft show in Lititz.

Exactly how much Philadelphia wants in, though, is a matter of some conjecture. The Eagles, through a spokesman, declined to comment, but a person with knowledge of the situation said that the team had made "no specific outreach" to the NFL about hosting the draft.

Responding to a reporter's question Monday, Mayor Nutter said that he wanted to know more about the issue "if indeed the NFL is considering rotating the event among other cities." (Hint, hint, Mr. Mayor: It is.) Nutter did add, though, that no one from the NFL had contacted his office about the matter, and a spokesman referred all further inquiries to Larry Needle, executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress - the division of the city's visitors bureau that's in charge of attracting major sporting events. Several phone calls and e-mails to the Sports Congress' office Monday went unreturned.

As for the league itself, McCarthy acknowledged that he had mentioned Philadelphia to the Times because of the city's interest "over the years" in hosting the draft, not because of any recent contact. "But we anticipate hearing from clubs and cities in the short term."

What we have here, then, is the NFL's stirring up a bidding war for the touchstone event of its offseason. Goodell and the league's owners are forever searching for worlds to conquer, for ways to squeeze every last drop of revenue out of the public that they can, and if you don't think many cities would be willing to pay America's richest, most popular sports league for the right to host THE DRAFT, you're either naive or willfully blind.

So, for Philadelphia, would the prestige of having the draft at the Wells Fargo Center or the Pennsylvania Convention Center outweigh the tangible cost? It's a story worth tracking, and at the end of the line, the important question is whether Philadelphia's civic leaders, citizens, and football fans would be rattled by the prospect, or whether they would handle it with care.


msielskiphillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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