After a two-year delay and three days of action, Las Vegas is receiving rave reviews as a host for the NFL draft.
“Better than perfect,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Review-Journal. “Las Vegas has done such a great job. They really wanted to make this big event and they made it bigger than we ever imagined. We’re really thrilled.”
Las Vegas originally was scheduled to host the 2020 draft but the COVID-19 pandemic forced that draft into a virtual one with Goodell running it from his basement.
Two years later, Goodell was joined in Las Vegas by representatives of all 32 NFL teams and more than 300,000 fans over the three days, according to the NFL.
Las Vegas used the opportunity to provide countless “Only in Vegas” moments — such as the Blue Man Group kicking off Day 3 on Saturday by shooting streamers at NFL Network host Rich Eisen on a television set overlooking the red carpet stage built over Fountains of Bellagio.
Over three days, the draft’s telecast showcased various Las Vegas resorts, personalities and shows, but the real MVPs were those working behind the scenes, Goodell said.
“Everyone from the public sector, the private sector, to the leadership here, wanted to show the city off,” Goodell said. “Obviously you (Las Vegas) know how to do big events, but you’ve made this event even bigger. Everyone had to work together, everyone had to find solutions and find creative ways to really have a great time. I think that’s what showed through.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak was relieved to have the draft take place in Southern Nevada after the two-year wait, calling it a winning situation for all involved.
“The thing about the draft is nobody loses,” Sisolak said. “When you come to the Super Bowl, half the fans are going home disappointed. If you’re coming to the draft you’re getting a draft choice. You might like it, you might not, but you got something to look forward to for your team. Everybody is here to have a good time and enjoy themselves and look forward to what they have to build upon for the coming year.”
Fans soak it up
Every time Goodell took the stage to announce a draft pick, he looked out into a large crowd, with the massive High Roller observation wheel looming in the distance. At some points of round one, however, it was a little tough to take in that view.
“It’s great just to look out at (it),” Goodell said. “With those five picks I couldn’t see anything (because of the sun). Other than that, it’s really unbelievable. It’s a sea of people, it’s great and it looks like they’re all having a good time.”
Indeed they were. Raiders fan Martha Soto said the experience was second to none.
“Being here has be a lifetime dream for me,” Soto said. “Just to be able to be here present … being with family, with my husband, no words, no words.”
Another Raiders fan, Wayne Mabry, known to denizens of the Black Hole as Violator, enthusiastically endorsed the Vegas draft.
“You talk about football fans being at Disney World, this is it, baby,” Mabry said. “Vegas is the spot.”
The sunny weather over the last three days didn’t hurt, either. Many fans from out of town took time to bask in the sun at some of the area resorts’ pools.
“It’s 30 degrees in Cleveland and 80 degrees here, so it’s much better,” said Jeremy Pritchard, who was joined by four friends Friday at Circa’s Stadium Swim.
“The atmosphere is great,” agreed Matthew Brommer, another fan at Stadium Swim.
The thousands of people in attendance each day, although hyped up, were well behaved for the most part, according to Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft.
“This has been, in our view, one of the best behaved crowds that we could have hoped for,” Naft said. “I think it was a family friendly environment for people on the whole. We had one jumper into the Bellagio fountain, but that was it.”
Arrest numbers for the three days were not available Saturday. However, after the first day of the draft, the Metropolitan Police Department tweeted that there had been no major incidents, “only some hamstring pulls from people trying to run the 40-yard dash” at the NFL Draft Experience.
Residents and tourists also managed to navigate the road closures around the Strip as Las Vegas Boulevard was closed between Bellagio Drive and Flamingo Road and Flamingo was shut down from the intersection of the Strip to Koval Lane.
“From a traffic management perspective it went better than anyone would have anticipated for such significant closures over the three days,” Naft said. “In the off hours deliveries were successfully able to be made. In the on hours it was all managed fairly well. Those taking part seemed to figure out where to go and, for those looking to bypass it, there weren’t any significant hurdles.”
Run it back?
Many of the people in attendance and on social media expressed the opinion that Las Vegas should become the permanent home for the draft. Naft, who also sits on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors, said the city would be open to that.
“I think everybody is really excited for what it means for our future prospects,” Naft said. “To the extent that this was a dress rehearsal, I think we passed with flying colors. To the extent that this lays the foundation for more events to come, it’s a job well done.”
One of those events is already on the docket: Super Bowl 58, to be held at Allegiant Stadium Feb. 11, 2024.
Sisolak said there were lessons learned from the draft that can be translated to the biggest event in American sports.
“This draft raises the bar for everybody,” Sisoak said. “You’re going to see that again with the Super Bowl. I’m going to talk to the commissioner (Goodell) again, we’d like to get in the regular rotation for the Super Bowl, with Miami and Dallas. I’m confident when they see the show we put on, that’s going to happen.”
Contact Mick Akers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers David Wilson and McKenna Ross contributed to this report.