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Roger Goodell: NFL draft ‘very likely’ to leave Chicago for 2017

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL will likely hold the 2017 NFL draft elsewhere. (AP)

NEW YORK — Though commissioner Roger Goodell was thrilled with Chicago’s staging of the NFL draft last year — and is bracing for a bigger event downtown next week — he expects it to be held elsewhere in 2017.

During an informal meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors, Goodell said Thursday it’s “very likely” the draft will move on after this year.

The draft moved out of New York last year and exceeded expectations last year in Chicago.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Goodell said. “We were very pleased.”

The NFL says Chicago city officials estimated 250,000 fans attended the downtown weekend draft event last year. The NFL estimates were closer to 200,000.

The NFL is expecting 300,000 during the three-day draft, which starts Thursday night with the first round.

Competition for the event has stepped up dramatically, Goodell said. A site for the 2017 draft will likely be announced in July.

“I think the draft will be back in Chicago,” said Kara Bachman, the executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission. “I don’t know for ’17, but it will certainly be back.”

In the fall, the NFL sent a memo to its clubs asking if their cities would be interested in hosting the draft in future years. Chicago responded yes.

“We submitted interest and have had discussions with the NFL about staying in the mix,” she said.

The city hasn’t yet submitted a bid for future years, though the NFL hasn’t formalized its bid process yet, anyway. Moving the draft is new; it came to Chicago last year after 50 years in New York City.

The league figures to focus on the next draft after the conclusion of this year’s.

Bachman said Chicago “definitely has a competitive advantage” because it successfully hosted the draft last season. She senses that “whatever path they take will be very tied to what happens” at this year’s draft.

The league likes the proximity of Grant Park — home to the free “Draft Town” fan festival — to the Auditorium Theatre, and the fact that Chicago is driving distance for many of their fan bases.

If the NFL begins rotating the draft, Chicago wants to be included. Canton, Ohio — the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — and Denver are among the cities who have publicly expressed interest in hosting the draft. An event in Los Angeles, which re-claimed the Rams this offseason, seems inevitable, though the league could wait until their new stadium complex opens in 2019.

Representatives from other cities’ tourism groups came to the draft last year to scout out how they could customize it back home.

Patrick Finley contributed