By John McMullen, NFL Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The NFL Draft is going off-Broadway and putting New York City’s famed Radio City Musical Hall in its rear-view mirror, at least for now.
The draft is officially moving out of the Big Apple for the first time since 1965, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who confirmed that the 2015 selection process will take place in either Los Angeles or Chicago.
“We’re focusing solely on Los Angeles and Chicago now,” Goodell told reporters in the City of Angels following a media gathering at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday.
The decision to take the league’s most popular offseason television vehicle on the road makes sense from a pure business standpoint.
A long-term philosophy of moving the event from city to city each spring could spark a mini Super Bowl-like bidding process which will only create interest and excitement from the local jurisdictions in play along with a significant new revenue stream for the league.
The NFL heard from 12 cities this time when they simply broached the idea of moving the draft out of Manhattan and away from Radio City for the first time since 2006 because of the venue’s crowded spring schedule and lack of availability on certain dates.
The mechanism for all of this was put into place this year when Radio City booked a multi-day Easter show (which was actually canceled due to lack of interest), pushing the 2014 draft back from late April to May 8-10.
Radio City is indeed booked again for the two windows the league was looking at in 2015 for what could be the first four-day draft — April 22-25 and April 29-May 2.
“We had 12 cities that were interested,” Goodell said. “We felt the best thing to do was to focus on the three cities (the finalists and NYC), because they had such a tremendous interest. There are very attractive aspects to each of those cities. Because we don’t have the appropriate dates in May (at Radio City) our focus is completely on Los Angeles and Chicago.”
That narrative here is really only plausible deniability for the league in an effort to let NYC down easily. In fact the NFL never really seriously explored other options outside of Radio City despite the fact that there are plenty of alternatives in and around Midtown.
The Madison Square Garden Company, which operates Radio City, could have offered up the Theater at Madison Square Garden, which can seat up to 5,600, a similar capacity to Radio City. The Javits Convention Center, meanwhile, actually hosted the draft in 2005 after MSG management opposed a new stadium for the New York Jets so there is a history there.
And if the league is intent on moving the draft to a basketball-sized arena, the NYC market can offer three world-class options, MSG itself, as well as Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Newark’s Prudential Center, which are all a stone’s throw from Rockefeller Center and Radio City, something the NFL dismissed because of potential conflicts with basketball and hockey.
A cynic might suggest those same conflicts could be in play for Los Angeles’ Staples Center or Chicago’s United Center and the backups in those cities are not nearly as plentiful, meaning smaller venues would have to be booked.
That said, on the surface, the only real downsides of taking the event on the road are tradition, media exposure and the overall environment and aesthetics Radio City offers, which are extremely appealing on television and simply can’t be duplicated by other locales.
“There is no question that New York provides a level of media exposure that would be hard to replicate elsewhere,” an NFL source told the New York Daily News. “At the same time, there is a question whether Radio City can remain a long-term host for the event because they are developing new shows and new things all the time.”
The bigger question, though, is whether the league would want Radio City to remain the long-term host. Once the additional revenue starts rolling in, it’s going to be very hard to pump the brakes and return to the old format even if Radio City acquiesces and clears its calendar each and every spring.
And if you read the tea leaves, Goodell has already moved on and embraced a new NFL Draft reality.
“We’re talking about different concepts,” the commish said, “primarily how to strengthen the last day and whether we should maybe push that back to the clubs a little bit more and allow the clubs to have a little bit more freedom as more of a club day.
“Maybe they would announce the picks from there (homes). We’re looking at everything under the sun because there’s a great interest in it and we want to do something that’s more responsive to our fans.”