LAS VEGAS (AP) — Thursday’s draft night will feature prospects walking a red carpet above the fountains at the Bellagio, a theater built specifically for the proceedings where they hope to hear their names called early, and the aura of the game everywhere.
How about that for something different for the NFL?
There’s no doubt that the flavor of Sin City — from the attractions to the casinos to the themed hotels and showgirls lining the gamblers’ driveway to the nearby mountains — seeps into this draft. The league seems very satisfied with this symbiosis.
“The main thing for the draft is to take on the character of where we are,” said Eric Finkelstein, senior director of event operations for the NFL. “This is not a cookie-cutter event. We try to embody and highlight where we are.
He then noticed the High Roller ferris wheel right in front of him and maybe three football fields from the theater stage where commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the 32 picks on opening night. Finkelstein also mentioned circles on the stage mimicking the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. Construction began on April 1.
Above the stage flashed digital playing cards, each designed for a specific NFL team. Next to the theater, which will seat about 1,500 people and has a footprint of about 1 million square feet, is Caesars Forum. This convention center even has an “NFL Draft Gate,” which the league requested during construction.
“We worked with Caesars to add a gate to allow us to exit prospects from the building with a direct connection to our theater building,” said Heather Nanberg, the league’s director of events.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Las Vegas, but has become a virtual exercise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So 2022 has been superseded and some plans have changed.
At the Bellagio, for example, we thought of placing prospects on boats in the fountains to bring them to the red carpet. Time constraints and weather concerns – Thursday night’s forecast calls for strong winds, unusual in Vegas at this time of year – canned that idea.
If players need to escape the heat before or after stepping on the mat, Kelsey Pietrangelo, the NFL’s live event operations manager, joked that “we’ll have wetsuits if they want to step in.” .
Indeed, on Tuesday, workers in diving gear made late adjustments to the stage and catwalk.
“Using six divers is a first for us,” she added.
Pietrangelo noted that 300 drones will circle the fountains from Wednesday to Friday and that the fountains will be used during the pre-draft festivities.
From the Bellagio, two billboards advertising sports betting, including one with the NFL logo on it, are in plain view. As they certainly can be for TV networks later this week. No one in the league seems uncomfortable with this scenario, instead emphasizing the importance of their “partners”. Especially Caesars Entertainment.
“We’ve been really focused on our prospecting experience this year,” Nanberg said, “and we’re committed to Caesars Forum.”
Since the league turned the draft into a road show in 2015, it’s held what some (boring) circles call the “selection meeting” in Chicago for two years; Philadelphia Cream; Arlington, TX; Nashville; and Cleveland. The general consensus is that Music City topped the charts with its presentation, shutting down Broadway for what was estimated to be nearly 600,000 attendees over the three days. Free concerts from Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley were added, along with all sorts of freebies (and other enticements) to honky tonks.
Las Vegas could overtake this weekend, voluntarily shutting down a significant portion of the Strip and offering Weezer, Ice Cube and Marshmello in concert. But the city’s myriad other attractions—music, magic, ventriloquism, tables, and slot machines—could scatter visitors, something that didn’t happen in Tennessee.
“Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world,” Finkelstein said. “We know there’s a lot going on in this town. They all learn how to organize a great event. We came to towns where it was a bit of a challenge with the size. Here they know what we are trying to achieve.
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