Kansas City officials gathered at Union Station on Thursday to celebrate and look ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft, a super-sized event officially awarded to the city a day earlier.
But they also looked back to appreciate the path that resulted in Kansas City landing what Mayor Sly James said would be “one of the biggest events in the history of this city.”
Chiefs president Mark Donovan recalled that 56 years ago — to the day of the draft announcement — franchise founder Lamar Hunt, who died in 2006, announced he was moving the team from Dallas to Kansas City.
“It’s a full circle story, but I’ll tell you the one thing to take from that: Lamar is looking down and smiling right now,” Donovan said. “He is proud of all of the impact this franchise has had on the region. All of the cooperation between the city and the franchise, and all of the support of the entire Chiefs Kingdom makes things like this possible.”
A few more details were revealed during Thursday’s event. The dates have not been set, although the draft has become a late-April occasion that begins with the first-round on a Thursday, continues with two rounds on Friday and finishes with the final rounds on Saturday.
The location of the stage where many players selected in the early rounds will greet the league’s commissioner hasn’t been finalized, but Union Station and the World War I Museum and Memorial will be involved.
And team and city officials made clear that landing the NFL Draft doesn’t change the ambition of one day hosting a Super Bowl. Voters’ rejection in 2006 of a rolling roof over Arrowhead Stadium ended the city’s hopes over the next couple of bidding cycles. But Donovan didn’t rule out the notion of one day hosting the NFL’s biggest show.
“We felt like we if got the draft it would be an opportunity to provide another proof point to say, ‘This is what the city can do when you bring an event like this to Kansas City,’” Donovan said. “It goes back to the opportunity. We have a great opportunity to maximize this event, and that could create more opportunities.”
In addition to awarding the draft to Kansas City in 2023, the NFL announced the 2021 draft will take place in Cleveland, leaving 2022 open. Kansas City opted not to bid for that year in an effort to give itself more preparation time.
“We work many years out,” Kansas City Sports Commission president Kathy Nelson said. “We’re working on the World Cup for 2026, as well. Knowing what our schedule is like, we decided 2023 was best for us.”
Other new Kansas City projects were part of the discussion with the NFL. Loews, the new 800-room hotel near the convention center, is expected to open in spring 2020. More uncertain is the completion of Kansas City’s new single-terminal airport. The airport’s website currently lists the completion date as “early 2023.”
“The new airport was not part of our bid, but it’s always talked about,” Nelson said. “If it opens in time, great. But it didn’t make or break the bid.”
The process to gain the draft for Kansas City started in 2017, not long after the NFL decided to turn the event into the spectacle it has become — some 600,000 people were said to have attended last month’s edition in Nashville. The Kansas City bid contingent was unsuccessful then, but continued to show interest. It lost out again in 2018, but felt it was getting closer.
Recent drafts were awarded to Philadelphia in 2017, Dallas in 2018 and Nashville this year. Attendance at this year’s draft in Tennessee set a record both for number of fans who attended and its economic impact: an estimated $132 million.
“Make no mistake, this is going to be one of the biggest events in the history of this city,” James said. “This is no other time when we will have this many people coming into this city from out of town.”