Through five years of trials and tribulations, the NFL Draft has finally made its way to Las Vegas.
The league has been planning on bringing the draft to the city even before the Raiders broke ground on Allegiant Stadium. The idea was originally conceived after the draft was moved from New York City in 2015 after nearly 50 seasons. After two drafts in Chicago, Illinois, the league believed that an entertainment capital such as Las Vegas could handle hosting the event.
"Las Vegas sets the bar for every type of event and the draft is going to be no exception" said Steve Hill, LVCVA CEO and President. "It's going to be a great place to gather. You're going to be able to walk down from your hotel room and just walk down to the draft. You really can't do that in most cities. ... So the experience around the entire day, the entire draft timeframe, is different here. It's elevated here because of how convenient it is.
"And Vegas is just going to add aspects to this that other places can't do."
Las Vegas has hosted several major sporting events in the past including a NBA All-Star game, several NCAA men's basketball tournaments and most recently, a NFL Pro Bowl. Not to mention the Super Bowl coming in 2024. According to the LVCVA, over 5 million people have already visited Las Vegas this year, and Hill expects several hundred thousand to be in transit to attend the NFL Draft. According to Eric Finkelstein, NFL Senior Director of Event Planning, working with the LVCVA and the Raiders to help bring the draft to Las Vegas was a seamless process.
"The amazing thing about Las Vegas and Clark County in general is this is the entertainment capital of the world," said Finkelstein, who is working on his 23rd NFL Draft. "What makes the draft successful city to city is always when you get a town that gets it. When you get a group that understands what you're trying to do and what we're trying to create and really gets that.
"And between the Raiders, the LVCVA, Caesars Entertainment, all of the different groups that have been a part of this – it doesn't get to where it gets to without that buy-in. What you'll see goes back to that collective effort from all of those entities and groups really supporting this and coming together to bring this to life."
The collective effort in bringing the draft to Las Vegas didn't come without some hiccups. The annual event was originally supposed to be held in Las Vegas two years ago, however unforeseen circumstances with the global COVID-19 pandemic placed a halt on those plans. The 2020 NFL Draft went completely virtual and remote for the first time in its history.
After a successful draft last year in Cleveland, Ohio, with fan participation, the NFL continued with their prior plans of bringing the draft to Nevada. Despite the rescheduling being considered a major setback, the NFL and the LVCVA turned the negative into a positive.
"The delayed gratification of having the draft definitely makes it more special," said Hill. "All of us has gone through a pandemic that was tough not only here in Vegas, but for football fans across the country, across the world. To have made it to the other side, to be able to have this draft with full crowds and be able to stand next to each other in this great space, you appreciate it more because of what's happened. And it's given us a little time to think more about a few extra things to add to make it even more special."
With two more years added to the initial deadline, Finkelstein and his crew dug even deeper into the logistics of setting up the draft, ultimately making the event even grander than what was originally planned for 2020.
"Obviously, it's a unique time for all of us in trying to get everything figured out," said Finkelstein. "This is the longest window of planning of any single event I've ever been a part of in all of my years at the NFL. If you can say anything good about the pandemic, it's that it did give us a chance to step back and really challenge our plans. 'Is this the right way of doing things? Is what we're doing right?'"
"We worked really closely with all the local entities from the Clark County commissioners to Las Vegas Metro PD. We went through all of the plans and really scrutinized them together to challenge them," continued Finkelstein. "'Is this the right set-up? Is this the right way to do things?' What we discovered is essentially what we were planning for 2020 is very similar to what we are doing for 2022. What we've been able to do is refine things things a bit, but it is a similar blueprint to our original vision for this overall event."
Draft prep has included hundreds of workers to set up the Red Carpet stage on the Bellagio Fountain and the Draft Theatre stage at the High Roller near Caesars Forum. Divers were also sent into the waters at Bellagio Fountain to build the underwater framing to keep the Red Carpet stage afloat.
"Requiring divers was different than any other location we ever needed to work in," said Kelsey Pietrangelo, NFL Manager of Live Event Operations. "That was one of the key pieces and looking at the schedule of how everything is put together, what materials we need, what can be sourced locally, what vendors we can use that are local and just build from there."
Additionally, many workers assisted on setting up the full NFL Draft Experience for fans – an event with free admission to attend. The fan experience include a 40-yard dash competition, a display of the Raiders' three Lombardi trophies, photo booths, a Lids VIP team store and a concert stage for post-draft day performances by Weezer, Ice Cube and Marshmello.
"Overall, we're looking at how our fans are moving between both of the sites," Pietrangelo said on managing the fan experience. "Understanding that when we are shutting down Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo, what the hours of that is. The police that's required to really facilitate that, the staffing, the signage, the way-finding of how to get someone from one location to another. We're really just looking at how the sites are going to work together and we're communicating that out to make sure that people are as safe as they can be."
With the arrival of the NFL Draft, Las Vegas will become the first city to host both the Pro Bowl, NFL Draft – and in 2024, the Super Bowl. Not only will the event be a culmination of years of hard work and fortitude, but for the city of Las Vegas as well.
"This is one of the crowning achievements and crowning events that we are going to have," said Hill. "We have become the Sports and Entertainment Capital, and the NFL, the Raiders and Allegiant Stadium have all played a huge role in that."
"This is a celebration of the draft and the NFL, but I think it's also a celebration of Las Vegas has come back."