Monday, April 20, 2020 / by Ken Couture
This was supposed to be the week when Las Vegas could rightfully wear the crown as sports capital of the world.
All eyes would have been on the Strip as the city hosted one of the premier events in sports — the NFL draft.
Just think of what could have been:
¦ The spectacle of erupting Fountains of Bellagio as a background to the introduction of dozens of future football stars.
¦ Commissioner Roger Goodell welcoming draft picks to the stage in the shadow of the High Roller.
¦ The city’s brightest A-list entertainment stars giving free performances to thousands of people over three nights.
¦ Beauty shots of the city broadcast to millions of people in 115 countries.
¦ Hundreds of thousands of visitors spending untold millions of dollars on hotel rooms, food, drink, entertainment and merchandise.
All of that came to a screeching halt March 16 when the NFL announced that the 2020 event originally scheduled for this Thursday, Friday and Saturday was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Three-hundred-pound linemen proved to be no match for a microscopic organism.
“The plans originally in place for Las Vegas this year were very exciting, and we don’t believe there’s another city that throws a party quite like we do,” said MGM Resorts International spokeswoman Jenn Michaels after the event was canceled.
The draft was destined to be the coming-out party for the Las Vegas Raiders, the NFL franchise that, against heavy odds, found a way to relocate from Oakland, California, to the desert over the past three years.
Many of the more than 600,000 people who were expected to make their way to the city for the draft were bound to pass by Allegiant Stadium at some point. The 65,000-seat, $2 billion indoor home of the Raiders is expected to be completed by July 31 and now stands as an intriguing invitation for future visits.
“Although Las Vegas lost this chance to shine, there will be many more opportunities to show the world just what Las Vegas is made of,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said after the NFL announced the event’s cancellation.
The draft also had the potential of being the best attended special event on the city’s 2020 calendar, bigger than the Electric Daisy Carnival, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and America’s Party on New Year’s Eve.
And with the convention list featuring several big shows, 2020 had the potential to set all kinds of records for visitation and spending.
COVID-19 made sure that will not happen.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was the primary connection point between the NFL, the Raiders and the city’s resort community for logistical planning.
The LVCVA had allocated $2.4 million for public safety, volunteer-related costs, shuttle services, county permits and a marquee event that was scheduled to occur Thursday. With most of the expenses due to be paid closer to the event, most of the money was never spent.
The authority viewed the expenditure as an investment. It routinely puts up money in advance of special events because experience shows that a popular draw generates far more in return.
Nashville, Tennessee, the site of the 2019 draft, reported a $224 million economic impact, with $130 million in direct spending calculated.
Economic experts believed Las Vegas was in line for an even greater return with its variety of entertainment and dining options available during what amounted to a four-day, full-capacity gathering.
The cancellation also resulted in the elimination of a massive worldwide television audience, with 47.5 million people expected to watch some portion of the draft and immediately associate it with Las Vegas.
But all may not be lost.
At the end of March, Las Vegas received a glimmer of hope that it could secure a future draft. The NFL hasn’t announced a site for the 2022 event, and all indications have pointed to Las Vegas being awarded it at some point. Cleveland is the scheduled site of the 2021 draft, and NFL officials say that’s “locked in.”
“We need some time to work through that with Las Vegas, with the Raiders and with the (LVCVA) out there,” NFL Vice President Peter O’Reilly said when asked if Las Vegas could host the 2022 event. “But that is something we are considering, for sure.”
Goodell also said Las Vegas could be in line for other major NFL events in the future — including the Super Bowl.
While Las Vegas officials are disappointed at the lost opportunity, they’re optimistic the city will get another shot soon.
“We would be thrilled to welcome the NFL and all of their loyal fans to Las Vegas for an ‘Only Vegas’ Draft experience when the opportunity presents itself,” LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill said in an email Thursday.
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