The NFL is no longer just about the game of football. It’s a full-blown business.
This isn’t anything new. As the game has grown in popularity, viewing convenience, and coverage, it has become a titan in the sports business world. But, as is the case anywhere in business, when you know you have something good and start to see rapid growth, you start thinking about how you can optimize revenue in every area.
A few examples of how the NFL has optimized over the years is with their locations of some other their main events, such as the Super Bowl and the NFL draft. Cities bid on hosting Super Bowls years in advance, and as time has come to pass, we’ve seen the NFL prioritize certain locations for the game, such as Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, San Francisco, and other warm-weather, easily accessible cities which optimize who might want to take part in the festivities.
The NFL draft was held in New York City from 1965 to 2014. Most notably, from 2006 to 2014, it was held in Radio City Music Hall. But the NFL noticed the draft was becoming much more than just a way for teams to add new players to the league. With rapidly rising viewership numbers, the NFL decided to monetize the event even more by moving its location, creating a full week of coverage worth attending, not just watching.
It appears now the NFL is set to change another major event in their calendar for the sake of monetization, this time with the NFL Scouting Combine.
Since 1987, the NFL combine has been hosted in Indianapolis, Indiana. According to a recent report from Mickey Shuey of Indianapolis Business Journal, 2022 will be the last year the event is guaranteed to be in Indianapolis.
I have been covering the NFL Combine in person since 2017, and can honestly say that I enjoy the event in Indianapolis. The Indiana Convention Center has plenty of space for the media, the podiums, the fan center, the clinics, the seminars that go on during the week, and much more. Outside of that, the downtown area is easily walkable—for the most part, or ride-sharing, if you must—and though there isn’t an endless amount of food and entertainment choices, having a few go-tos has made for a great media experience with everyone in just a handful of places.
But the NFL isn’t going to see things through the media’s eyes; they’re going to see things through the eyes of potential revenue and business opportunities.
For as suitable as the city of Indianapolis is, it gets cold in February—sometimes bitter cold. Anytime you’re bringing harsh weather into the equation, you’re automatically swaying people away from coming to the event. There are no outside portions of the fan fest because there really isn’t the space close by—and of course it would be outside, which would be cold. The live shots and media coverage are all inside, including the main drills, which happen in Lucas Oil Stadium.
We can just be honest here. The NFL says they intend on hearing bids to host the combine from all 32 franchises in the NFL, but the ultimate winners might lean more toward how the draft and Super Bowl locations are chosen—there will be biases with cities that bid. Cities like Miami, Tampa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix will have a major advantage due to their populations and warm weather climates during that time of year. City layout and being able to put everything in a somewhat centralized area to accommodate not just nearly 1,500 media members, but an increased volume of fans in attendance will come into play. That will bring cities like Charlotte, Nashville, and New Orleans into the fold.
Not only is the combine a potential revenue source if the league can make it more of a fan-friendly and accessible event, but there are also plenty of conversations and deals that go on with the bigwigs in the league around the time of the combine. Warmer weather and more expanded locations could potentially boast a better experience for NFL execs, too, which could certainly go into the decision.
I really do enjoy the event in Indianapolis. As a football fan, the combine being in Indianapolis is all I’ve ever known. I have enjoyed watching from afar and also covering it in person. But if we take a hint from what the NFL has done with their other events, it seems 2022 will be the last time we’ll see it in Indianapolis, at least for a little while.