In Charlotte Panthers plan bid for NFL Draft event

Late in April 2019, the Carolina Panthers sent a local delegation to the NFL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee. With them were representatives from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. 

The Panthers did not seek the visitors authority’s help selecting players that weekend; instead, the Charlotte contingent took a behind-the-scenes look at how Music City staged what has become a large-scale sports attraction.

Nashville set a new standard for the Draft, attracting 600,000 people downtown for three days of televised player introductions and ancillary events including outdoor concerts, fan festivals, and ample local food and drink options. At the time, the Panthers and Charlotte tourism executives said they hoped to host a future Draft. Covid-19 hit less than a year later, scuttling those ambitions — at least temporarily.

Tom Glick, president of Panthers parent company Tepper Sports & Entertainment, told CBJ during a recent interview at Bank of America Stadium that the team remains eager to have the Draft in uptown.

“We will be raising our hand to say that this is an event that belongs in Charlotte, that will work in Charlotte,” he said. “And when we do it, we will look to raise the bar, just like each of the cities who have hosted it thus far have done.”

When that happens is yet to be determined but it won’t be before 2025. Las Vegas is home of the 2022 Draft, followed by Kansas City in 2023. Detroit, Green Bay and Washington are finalists the following year. No future sites beyond that have been determined.

Teams wanting to bid to host the Super Bowl, Draft or NFL Combine were given a July 23 deadline to notify the league, an NFL spokesman told CBJ. He declined to disclose specific teams or events.

The NFL first took the Draft on the road in 2015. That year, Chicago turned what had been a small annual event held in New York hotels and other venues for 50 years into a downtown street festival. It attracted 200,000 fans while providing a lively backdrop for the nationally televised event. 

The next year, Chicago hosted again, increasing attendance to 225,000. What briefly looked like a lark morphed into a coveted event. In 2017, Philadelphia generated $56 million in visitor spending with 250,000 fans at the Draft. Then came Dallas with $74 million as host of the Draft, followed by Nashville’s visitor spending haul of $133 million.

Independent economists routinely apply steep discounts to such convention and visitor spending estimates, but the crowds and national exposure demonstrate at least some value for an event that is a bargain in sports terms. Nashville organizers spent between $2 million and $4 million to stage the 2019 Draft, CBJ reported previously.

Last year, the Draft went virtual because of the pandemic and set viewership records across ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and NFL Network. This year, it went back on the road, bringing 160,000 people to Cleveland. Visitors spent $42 million on meals, hotel rooms, and other expenses, according to the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

An average of just over 6 million people watched the Draft on TV or streaming in 2019 and 2021. That’s two to four times more than average viewing audiences for NASCAR races and national NBA regular season telecasts in recent years.