Emanuel still holding out hope for NFL Draft three-peat

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The NFL Draft begins Thursday in Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said it’s “very likely” the NFL draft will be held elsewhere in 2017 after two straight years in Chicago, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t taking “no” for an answer.

Three days before the NFL’s greatest show on earth — outside the Super Bowl — returns to Chicago, Emanuel held out hope of persuading Goodell to return for a third-straight year.

Free rent in Grant Park for the 2015 NFL draft in Chicago cost the Chicago Park District nearly $1 million last spring. The value of this year’s tab will rise to $3.2 million — with the NFL paying just over $103,0000 — for an expanded Draft Town footprint in Grant Park, according to the Chicago Park District.

The expanded fan festival for the draft, which runs from Thursday through Saturday, includes youth football games and clinics, replica locker rooms, a “pop-up” football museum and even a Ferris Wheel to enhance the carnival atmosphere.

RELATED: Street closings begin as city prepares for NFL Draft

“The one thing I do know is the NFL draft wasn’t here in prior years. It was always in New York. It started on the road and it came to Chicago and in 2015, I said that if we do our job right, it’s gonna be a no-brainer that they’re back in 2016,” the mayor said during an unrelated news conference at Dunbar High School.

“They’re gonna be back in 2016. I met with the team before, meaning my staff, about a month ago. Everybody involved. I said, `We’re gonna earn this business and we’re gonna give `em the same sense of service that, when they get on the plane, they’re gonna go, ‘Why didn’t we think of that before?'”

The mayor noted that the red carpet that Chicago rolled out for the 2015 NFL Draft earned the city a return engagement and the coveted right to host the 2017 National Hockey League draft. Chicago is also playing host this summer to America’s Cup.

“We are finally bringing that kind of major sporting events to the city. Obviously, I would like to see the NFL Draft back [in 2017]. I would also like to see the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. That’s another thing I would like. But I don’t have a lot of people asking my opinion on it,” the mayor said.

Does that mean the mayor considers it a foregone conclusion that the NFL will pull up stakes next year for either Los Angeles, Denver or Canton, Ohio, the three cities competing with Chicago?

“I think this: Prior to 2015, the NFL didn’t realize what the draft could be. They came to America’s heartland, the most American of American cities the city of Chicago, and brought their fan base from the greater Midwest, which is their most dedicated fan base,” the mayor said.

“When they analyze it and look at it, they’ll realize that Chicago is a great city. But, the good thing is, we’re not a one-sport town. We now have the NHL draft, which will be the 100-year anniversary of the NHL. The draft by the NHL was never held in the city of Chicago. And they will be here because they saw what the city could do on the NFL side. That’s a great opportunity for the city of Chicago.”

City officials estimated that 250,000 fans attended the downtown weekend draft event last year. NFL estimates were closer to 200,000.

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

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