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Emanuel says he's dead-serious about hosting NFL draft

On the eve of the NFL draft, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’s dead-serious about bringing the annual event to Chicago.

“Just last week, we brought a new show to the convention center. It’s in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s the first time they’ll be in North America. It’s AutoMechanika.”

The possibility of luring the NFL draft came up earlier this week when, in an interview with NFL Network, league commissioner Roger Goodell said Emanuel was one of two mayors in aggressive pursuit of the draft. Bears president Ted Phillips also had said at the NFL owners meetings in March that Emanuel was interested in hosting the draft.

Wednesday, Emanuel said it’s all about bringing people and events to Chicago.

“You know my goal: 55 million visitors and tourists in Chicago. Moving Chicago from fifth-place to second place in the convention industry. It’s a major economic engine for the city of Chicago. And I’m gonna go seek business everywhere we can to bring the convention industry and the tourists to Chicago because it drives economic growth and job creation.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in March that the Chicago Park District was exploring the possibility of expanding Soldier Field by 5,000 seats or even more to bolster Emanuel’s long-shot bid to host the Super Bowl and, more importantly, to increase seating capacity for other revenue-generating events.

At the time, the mayor said Soldier Field was “fighting below our weight class” because, “We capped ourselves” with a capacity of 61,500 for football and 63,500 for other events.

“I know everybody looks at the Super Bowl. But, look at this hockey event [between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins], which we started last year with college hockey. You look at two years ago when we had the Mexican soccer team here. We have Liverpool coming. These things not only sell out, they sell out fast. And it’s clear that you could do more given these super events, and they would be self-financing and self-sustaining.”

Bears Chairman George McCaskey subsequently said Chicago has no plans to bid for the Super Bowl because the city’s brutal winter and Soldier Field’s small seating capacity would make it such a long-shot.

As for Emanuel’s push to expand the stadium, McCaskey noted that the smaller seating capacity resulted in “dramatically improved sightlines” and “put a lot of seats closer to the action.”

He noted that those sight lines might be impacted by an expansion, but he didn’t rule it out, noting that the Bears “continually consider ways to improve” Soldier Field.

Contributing: Adam L. Jahns