Detroit lands the NFL Draft after 5 years of trying. Here’s what the impact could be

Detroit Free Press

The city of Detroit’s selection Monday as the host of the 2024 National Football League Draft will likely be the biggest, and most anticipated, sports event held in the city in more than a decade.

If other cities that have also hosted the draft are any indicator, the three-day event could bring hundreds of thousands of visitors — and their wallets — to downtown Detroit. Besides the draft, music events are planned for Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena and fireworks for the Detroit River.

City officials and civic leaders called the city’s selection “historic” and “momentous.”

“This is the best day in the history of my life,” said Claude Molinari, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, known as Visit Detroit. “Of course, I say that every day. But today might just be that.”

Molinari and a team including Detroit Lions President Rod Wood have been pursuing the NFL Draft for the past five years. The league held its annual draft in New York for nearly 50 years, but began moving the event among its team cities in 2015, to cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville.

“When a brand as iconic and as ever-present as the NFL puts their stamp of approval on you and says, ‘We’re going to hold one of our biggest marquee events in your city,’ I think that really speaks to just how much of a change Detroit has gone through,” Molinari said.

Large attendance numbers expected

In 2019, the NFL said 600,000 people came to Nashville for the draft over a period of three days.

The Super Bowl XL in 2006, meanwhile, drew 100,000 people to Detroit, and about another 100,000 came to the city in 2009 for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four tournament.

More recently, earlier in March the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were held at Little Caesars Arena, bringing 40,000 people to downtown Detroit, said Molinari. The draft is expected to be “far ahead of that,” he said.

But these events don’t come for free

Molinari and cities that have hosted the draft call it an economic windfall. The visitors bureau of Philadelphia said the draft created a $94 million economic impact. Dallas says it reaped $125 million, while Nashville touted a $133 million boon from hosting in 2019.

Those estimates are based on reports commissioned by the visitor’s bureaus tasked with ensuring the events are a success.

But there are costs.

“We are going to work with our partners at the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan, but there is no financial obligation from those political entities at this time,” said Chris Moyer, senior director of communications for Visit Detroit.

He also said Visit Detroit has a “significant portion” of the funding needed to pay for the event, largely in the forms of commitments via private donations. But they’re planning additional fundraising efforts in the months to come.

There’s no guarantee the state and city won’t open their coffers in the future — it’s happened with multiple other drafts.

Philadelphia chipped in about $500,000 in 2017, according to local publication Billy Penn. The State of Texas used more than $2.1 million from a taxpayer-stocked fund created especially to defray the costs of big events, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, said one-time events like these aren’t the economic windfall they’re cracked up to be.

Szymanski said compared with metro Detroit’s annual gross domestic product of around $260 billion, the visitor spending coming from this event amounts to, at most, one-tenth of one percent of all economic activities. And these events don’t come into town for free, he said, citing costs such as redirecting traffic.

“That’s money that could be spent on other activities, which might actually be more useful for the local economy like providing children with a proper education or providing proper health care,” he said.

More: Detroit selected to host 2024 NFL draft, with events taking place all over downtown

More: Ford recruits CEO with Detroit roots to run Michigan Central Station, Corktown site

City officials, though, say hosting the draft will provide an international spotlight on Detroit and will highlight the city’s recent progress, like Ford Motor Co.’s redevelopment of Michigan Central Station, which is scheduled to be completed before 2024.

“The NFL draft will be a perfect time for media and visitors from around the country to see the progress our city has made and continues to make,” Hakim Berry, chief operating officer of the city of Detroit, said in an emailed statement.

Contact Adrienne Roberts: amroberts@freepress.com.

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