NFL Draft in Philadelphia: The costs, benefits and risks for the city
PHILADELPHIA — A temporary open-air theater atop the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps will serve as the epicenter of the NFL Draft this week, while its eye-catching features underscore the challenges and economic potential the event brings to the city.
The NFL’s ambitious plans for the outdoor stage and a free fan festival create unknowns, but some experts and city officials say the risk is worth taking for Philadelphia.
Jeremy Jordan, the director of the Sports Industry Research Center at Temple University, worked with a third-party group to project the economic ramifications of the draft. He studied the effect the event had on Chicago the past two years and predicted it would generate about $80 million worth of economic impact (which mostly comes from out-of-towners pouring money into local businesses) for the city.
Philadelphia Convention and Visitors and Bureau (PHLCVB) president Julie Coker Graham said the city relied on Jordan’s projections and also expects Philadelphia will welcome about 200,000 visitors over the three-day draft, which begins Thursday night.
Jordan said Philadelphia was wise to agree to host the draft, in part because the NFL would foot much of the $25 million bill.
After the NFL announced its plans for the draft in September, PHLCVB communications director Khaila Burke-Green told PennLive in an email the NFL would shoulder most of the cost and the PHLCVB would help raise $5 million in private money. The city will add $500,000 in taxpayer dollars and a $500,000 grant from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the city’s public-private development organization.
“I’m not saying $500,000 isn’t a lot of money, but with the potential return and the potential exposure, it seems like a reasonable return on that investment,” Jordan said. “If the city was having to front half the bill, that would be different, but I think that because primarily it’s services and things that they have to provide, it makes this a smart business decision.”
Some experts, though, are skeptical of the $80 million economic impact projection. BillyPenn quoted an economist last week who said he expected Philadelphia to generate about one-tenth of that total.
Plus, the $80 million estimate is based on just two years of evidence. The league didn’t try to turn the draft into a large-scale, three-day event until 2015, when it moved from New York to Chicago, leaving Jordan without a long history of comparable data to study.
So, Philadelphia’s decision to host the draft comes with some risk. And even if the financial cost of the event isn’t steep, some residents have griped about road closures and construction.
The NFL Draft’s fan festival will extend 25 football fields in length across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and work on the structures associated with the draft have blocked several popular roads.
Philadelphia native Dan McQuade wrote an article on Deadspin last month that called draft preparations “massively inconveniencing.”
“The league has already inconvenienced Philadelphians with roads being shut down, construction, the closure of at least one school, and garish branding,” McQuade wrote.
Coker Graham said the city spoke with local neighborhood associations to get input from residents and make them aware of the construction plans. She explained that the city takes the opinions of locals seriously as they draw up plans for such events.
“You want to balance it,” Coker Graham said. “We understand having an event of this magnitude can certainly cause frustration from a local perspective. I think we’ve worked very hard, ourselves, the city and the NFL and the production company, we’ve worked really hard to limit the frustration and the inconvenience.”
Beyond dealing with disgruntled residents, Jordan said Philadelphia must consider the locals who might avoid spending money at businesses during the draft because they hope to avoid the commotion.
Even with those drawbacks in mind, Jordan said his study of the draft in Chicago provides optimism for Philadelphia. He expects hotels to benefit most from the influx of visitors, with restaurants and local retailers also bringing in a chunk of the $80 million economic impact.
Coker Graham said the location of the draft should help with that, too.
“Because the draft is in walking distance of so many Center City neighborhoods, we really do expect the local businesses to benefit,” Coker Graham said. “We expect folks to come to the footprint of the NFL draft events but also venture out to the businesses in the area.”
The draft’s theater, perched atop the iconic art museum steps, will be open-ended, allowing for a large standing-room only crowd. The fan festival will take place outside of the draft and stretch down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
That creates an atmosphere ripe for a large crowd, but uncertainty lingers as the NFL draft is still finding its footing as a citywide event.
“The NFL is building the audience,” Coker Graham said. “Looking at Chicago’s numbers year-over-year, they increased. And I would say, based on our Northeast location, that we should hit the numbers that they saw, if not increased numbers. We’ve always projected close to 200,000 fans based on what we saw in Chicago. And we are expecting the same economic impact — about $80 million in economic impact.”
Mayor Jim Kenney, in a February news conference announcing plans for the draft’s fan festival, bragged about Philadelphia’s success in hosting a visit from the Pope in 2015 and the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
Kenny said the draft in 2017 will be the latest chance to showcase the city.
“The NFL is turning the draft into a marquee event,” Jordan said. “Philadelphia is smart to get in on the ground floor of it. Cities that host these sorts of events seem to be the cities that get awarded with the next one.”
While economic impact, cost and local frustration can often even out, Philadelphia will benefit from television coverage of the draft, particularly because the event is showcasing a landmark, Jordan said.
Coker Graham said the city is hosting the draft for two reasons: One is that incoming visitors will generate money for Philadelphia businesses and jobs for its residents. The other is that the draft will give potential vacationers, business owners and investors a view of the city — along with that large stage on Philly’s most famous steps.
“Maybe people who’ve never been to Philadelphia will see the shots of the city on TV and decide that this is a place they want to come visit or do business in, or maybe they have an upcoming convention and they want to spend time here,” Coker Graham said. “It opens up a wide variety of possibilities for the future. To me, those are the reasons you look at holding events like this.”
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