NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sang Chicago’s praises Wednesday, but virtually snuffed out Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s dream of an NFL Draft three-peat.
After joining Emanuel and some of the NFL’s hottest prospects at a “Play 60” football clinic for kids in Grant Park, Goodell said the 2017 NFL Draft is almost certain to be “rotated” to another city — no matter how good a show Chicago puts on this year.
“What you’ve done the last two years in redefining it has already spoken volumes. It’s really now about obviously trying to satisfy the desire and demand of other communities that would love to do this, too,” Goodell said.
“Unfortunately, when you do such a great job, everybody else wants a shot at it, too. . . . There’s fans all over our country. We had a winner in New York and we found a way to come to Chicago and make it better. We might be able to do the same in another market.”
Goodell stressed that a return to Chicago was “not out of the question.” But, he said, “I don’t know about next year. We have a lot of cities that are interested in it and we’re thinking about rotating it.”
The hyper-competitive Emanuel doesn’t like to lose at tiddlywinks, let alone a marquee event like the NFL Draft with an economic impact pegged last year at $81.6 million, including 31,000 “hotel nights,” half of them filled by out of towners.
But the mayor took this loss in stride even though the NFL won’t make it official until July.
Los Angeles, Denver and Canton, Ohio, home of the NFL Hall of Fame, are the primary competitors.
“Have you seen that stage in front of Buckingham? There’s no other place you can do this. . . . There’s no other city in America [where] you can do Draft Town. Everything else will be Draft Village. We’ve set up the gold standard. Obviously, other cities want this. [But] they’re going to measure it against Chicago — not against New York,” Emanuel said.
The mayor noted that the college stars he talked to all came here with a family contingent of 10 to 15 people. They’re all staying in Chicago hotels, shopping in Chicago stores and eating in Chicago restaurants.
“Every one of the players was telling me how much they’re in love with the city and how much fun they’re having,” the mayor said.
Apparently referring to the 2017 NFL Draft, Emanuel joked, “They’ll like downtown Canton. I think they’ll say, ‘This is not Chicago. We’re not in Chicago any more, Mom.; ”
Emanuel has been under fire for months for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Chicago has also made negative headlines around the world because of a surge in shootings and homicides.
The return of the NFL Draft allows Chicago’s embattled mayor to play the role of gracious host and showcase his city for good reasons, instead of bad.
That’s apparently why Emanuel was throwing footballs and running around Grant Park, almost like he was one of the kids hob-nobbing with soon-to-be-NFL millionaires.
In a series of interviews, the mayor bragged about how he managed to end New York City’s 51-year stranglehold on the NFL Draft and, in the process, lure the 2017 National Hockey League draft to Chicago.
“It came down to two cities. It was Los Angeles and Chicago and I told Roger [Goodell] right then. I said, ‘Here’s my number if you have any issue. One number. You call this number and I’ll take care of it.’ When you put on big events, something’s gonna happen. It happens,’ ” the mayor recalled.
“Thank God the phone never rang. But the fact is, the other city never showed the hunger that Chicago showed. . . . Your first sell is your hardest sell.”
For a mayor who once talked about adding the 8,000 seats to Soldier Field that the stadium needed to host the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft is the next best thing.
Hosting two straight NFL Drafts that showcase Chicago to a television audience of 8.8 million was the political equivalent of a touchdown — no matter how long local streets have to be closed or how much free rent is provided to the NFL in Grant Park.
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 $103,000 — for an expanded Draft Town footprint in Grant Park, according to the Chicago Park District.
The expanded fan festival tied to this year’s draft includes youth football games and clinics, replica locker rooms, a “pop-up” football museum and even a Ferris Wheel to enhance the carnival atmosphere.
“After the NFL Draft in 2015, they’re back in 2016. And in 2017, we have the NHL Draft. Things that we never had in Chicago. That’s great for the city. . . . Tonight, I’m having a reception for the America’s Cup. By doing these things, each one leads to the next one,” the mayor said.
“We’re going to show the world what we’re capable of. A great sports team, a greats sports city as well as a city that knows how to put on big events. And my view is this year, we’re gonna have the cross-town World Series. So we have a lot to look forward to.”