Heads keep spinning as the NFL becomes Las Vegas’ biggest fan By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports January 22, 2020 at 7:30 pm Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Longtime locals can remember when the National Football League shunned Las Vegas at every turn. These days the league’s crush on the city borders on obsession. The celebrated list of connections between the league and Las Vegas continues to grow. In addition to the 2020 kickoff of the Las Vegas Raiders at a sparkling new, $2 billion stadium and the almost daily news of how the expansion of legalized sports betting is pumping renewed excitement into the league, there’s the news that the NFL has scheduled the upcoming draft for April 23-25 on the Strip on a barge in front of the Bellagio fountains with players transported by boat to the stage. The red carpet will be rolled out as only Las Vegas can do it. If I had written those words even a few years ago you would have thought I’d lost my mind. But the decision was made in December 2018 to bring the draft to Las Vegas in the run-up to the Raiders’ arrival. The announcement of the grand and gaudy details this week gave public officials renewed reason to gush with excitement despite the security and traffic challenges the three-day event will generate. It is expected to attracts a crowd that some anticipate will rival New Year’s Eve on the Boulevard. Bellagio Fountians will serve as the backdrop for NFL Draft’s red carpet entrance. Las Vegas-as-quintessential backdrop and party headquarters wins again. And it’s about time. The fact that jaws will drop in the sports world over the announcement isn’t surprising. What’s amazing is how long it took for the league, which prides itself on made-for-TV spectacle, to arrive at the answer. The league’s brain trust spent a couple decades sending cease-and-desist letters any time a multibillion-dollar casino resort committed the unpardonable sin of advertising a Super Bowl party by its official name. The sports books and casinos threw extravagant affairs for the “Big Game.” Far from the red carpet, players were once called on the carpet for making unapproved offseason appearances in Las Vegas. This from a league whose popularity has long benefited from the popularity of sports betting practiced mostly illegally until the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of PASPA. But that’s all water under the Bellagio fountains now. When the original announcement was made in 2018, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cheered, “The NFL Draft is one of the most-anticipated events of the year and we are excited to take it to Las Vegas. We look forward to working with the Raiders, Las Vegas officials and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to create an unforgettable week-long celebration of football for our fans, the incoming prospects and partners.” It sounds like it will accomplish that goal and more. And with due respect to previous draft sites, places such as Nashville and Arlington seem almost bland by comparison. Members of the Clark County Commission on Tuesday, for the most part, could only express a sense of awe at the roll out of the upcoming event by league officials. The event also comes at an opportune time for the LVCVA, which played an integral role in its coordination with the league. When CEO Steve Hill read a lengthy list of the officials and agencies that have huddled for months to ensure the draft’s success, it was a reminder that events of this size don’t come together by accident. NFL Vice President for live events John Barker opened his presentation with some impressive statistics generated by Nashville in last-year’s draft event: 600,000 people in attendance – half of those coming from out of town – over three days; $244 million in economic impact and $130 million in direct spending pumped into the local economy, and 47.5 million television viewers from 115 countries. Barker said, “We’re very proud of the draft in Nashville, but my boss Roger Goodell said to me the next day after, ‘So what’s next? How are we going to make it bigger, and how are we going to make it better?’” You take it to Las Vegas, that’s how. You dream up an idea to put a stage on a lake on the Strip, roll out a red carpet, and construct a separate viewing theater for thousands of fans. In other words, you let Las Vegas do what it does best: Throw a party to remember. Attempting to take nothing away from Nashville, Barker enthused, “I can’t think of a better town or a better city to bring it to than Las Vegas. Las Vegas understands the importance of special events.” If the Strip location turns out to be a winner as anticipated, it should become a regular part of the draft party rotation. Or maybe the league that once shunned Sin City should just make it official and move the event to Las Vegas permanently. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.