NFL draft in Las Vegas primer for Super Bowl

(From left) LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill speaks while joined by NFL Commissioner Roger G ...

Steve Hill sauntered last December into a conference room inside the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas in Irving, Texas. Prepared to banter with 32 of the wealthiest people in America. Prepared to pitch to them the “easiest product in the world to sell.”

“Las Vegas kind of sells itself,” said Hill, the president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, of the NFL owners meeting where the site of a Super Bowl would be selected. “All you have to do is mention the name and people’s eyes light up.”

Owners of the NFL’s 32 franchises notwithstanding.

“The NFL has also developed to the point where it’s also the easiest product to sell,” he told them. “The ability to combine those two brands and everything, everybody involved in both Las Vegas and the NFL to raise the city and the league to this height, the combination of that is pretty unbeatable.”

The NFL draft proved that and — and then some, serving as a football festival for fans around the world and a singular showcase for the NFL’s newest market. But it was also a prelude for the most significant event in sports, and, by 2024, city history, too: Super Bowl LVIII.

Hill and Las Vegas were awarded the Super Bowl at that meeting in Dallas, and the draft is a de facto preview — solidifying the league’s foothold in Las Vegas for the foreseeable future.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable spectacle, the Super Bowl being in Las Vegas,” said former All-Pro offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, the reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year who helped the Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.

“I couldn’t imagine anybody’s not going to want to be here for that spectacle. It’ll be unbelievable as the league always does. They do it right. And the Super Bowl in Vegas is going to be really special.”

Engaging the community

The draft is definitely a spectacle, though one of a different sort. It’s marketed toward fans from all 32 fan bases, and more than 100,000 congregated Thursday outside Caesers Forum for the first round. The NFL’s director of events, Nicki Ewell, said the league makes a point to feature the franchise in the city that hosts the draft.

“But it’s really an opportunity for all 32 to celebrate, and that’s unique with the draft,” she said.

The Super Bowl carries a different tenor, catered more toward the AFC and NFC representatives and the host city independent of the franchise located there. The Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the last two Super Bowls at their home stadiums, but the marketing wasn’t tailored for their fan bases.

The draft is just that: a draft, with a handful of ancillary events built around the weekend. Super Bowls include several additional NFL events throughout the course of the week that aim to engage the entire city, along with events promoted independently or by the league’s sponsors.

Hill said the draft draws more people, a sensible conclusion given the 32 fan bases that are involved. The logistics are more difficult, too, because of the closing of pivotal roads like Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road.

Super Bowl crowds, Hill said, tend to be more “corporate,” leaning into the league’s sponsorships.

“The level of concierge-type service at a Super Bowl and a draft are pretty different,” he said.

But Super Bowls do tend to engage the totality of the community more than drafts do. Ewell said the league tries to hold events in various part of the host city rather than at a central location.

“We really want families to know that it’s an accessible event, too” she said. ”How do we get people to come down here with their children and know that this is a safe environment? It’s something for everybody, and we would love to get our roots deeper in the community here.”

A burgeoning relationship

The league plans to incorporate Allegiant Stadium into the Super Bowl experience when the game comes to Las Vegas, Ewell said, calling it the city’s “crown jewel.” The stadium’s campus isn’t as big as some of the other campuses in the NFL’s rotation.

With that said, Ewell explained she’s already begun thinking about how to maximize the space.

Super Bowls bring between $300 and $500 million to their respective host cities, per the NFL. Hill and Ewell couldn’t yet project the economic impact the draft is going to have. But the expectation was that it would obliterate league and city standards for a special event.

“We’re employing a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of people to work. We’re doing a lot of food, all of those things,” Ewell said. “A lot of that leads to the economics a draft brings to the city.”

Ewell isn’t yet sure if Las Vegas will remain in the league’s rotation for the NFL draft, noting that it likes to target markets that aren’t equipped to host the Super Bowl. But the requisite hotel and convention space, entertainment options and winter weather make the city ideal for future Super Bowls.

Plural.

“We know this is going to be (in) the rotation,” Ewell said.

Hill said he’s pleased with how the draft was executed — and with the blossoming relationship between Las Vegas and the NFL.

“Understanding what their priorities are, their policies are. Them understanding what’s easy to do in Las Vegas and what takes extra effort, all of those things are really helpful,” Hill said. “Las Vegas has stepped up to make that happen at the draft, and I know it’ll do that at the Super Bowl as well.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.