The NFL draft has descended on Nashville, but there’s also a storm that could be close behind it.
Weather projections for Thursday night — which kicks off Round 1 of the draft — are getting a bit ugly.
So what, you say? Well, a big chunk of the draft activity is happening outdoors. The open-air event is calling for draft observers in Nashville to be in an area in the city that’s close to downtown — and it’s free. Large crowds are expected.
Worst yet: There are metal bleachers where fans can sit and watch. Metal bleachers and lightning (it’s in the forecast) don’t mix well.
There’s a chance that the NFL will have to go to its Plan B if the weather projections worsen. After all, this is a major TV event happening on multiple networks. The show must go on, as they say.
But what happens if there’s a late change in the weather? Is it possible there could be an evacuations during the draft?
NFL has contingency plans
We’re not suggesting that the league doesn’t have a plan for bad weather. It does. That’s the rub with having one of these big-scale, outdoor events. You have to assume things are going to go poorly. Mother Nature is the commissioner on this night, not Roger Goodell.
So the NFL has thought about this and planned it out in case heavy rain and — most notably — lightning come to town.
"This is the NFL. We play in all weather, rain or shine, but if it's a safety concern, we have a plan," NFL senior director for event operations Eric Finkelstein told the Tennessean. "We've worked in similar venues before, and we have contingency plans for our contingency plans."
The best part about the setup is that the NFL’s public-address system is powerful enough to warn fans of something happening. And there are venues nearby where the league plans to move the event to should that happen.
But how seamless and convenient would such an evacuation be?
After all, many local bars and restaurants will be booked by the league or other sponsors for private events and won’t be able to shelter the tens of thousands of fans who are expected to attend.
Where would the draft be moved?
The current draft viewing area is in a part of town on Broadway between Second and Fifth Avenues, between Broadway and Commerce Street, and in the Music City Walk of Fame Park. That’s where all the vendors, viewing screens and the main stage are set up for fans to enjoy.
If lightning is feared, the event would have to be moved indoors to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The problem? It’s roughly an 1,800-seat venue, and many of those seats will be taken up by operations people from the league, along with media and NFL officials. There will be more than 1,800 fans on foot seeking shelter, and they are not all going to fit in the venue.
According to the league, some spectators will be able to enter the Schermerhorn on a first-come, first-serve basis. But the rest might be headed home, or back to their hotels for the out-of-town folks.
The NFL is in a tough spot here
The league clearly wants this event to go on as planned outdoors. Moving it would be a giant pain. But it can’t mess around with lightning mixed with metal bleachers. That’s several hundred lawsuits waiting to happen if they get stubborn on moving it.
And the timing is a potentially big issue. What if the weather looks decent at 3 p.m. but an hour before the draft the forecast worsens? Is that enough time to shuttle the operations and give fans enough time to seek shelter?
There’s the possibility, if the NFL doesn’t make a call on this thing soon enough, that the start of the draft is delayed slightly. And, worst-case scenario, what happens if the draft starts outdoors — weather drama-free — but things change thereafter? After all, this is a three-to-four-hour event we’re talking about.
Could we even see a delay mid-Round 1? Imagine for a moment that the weather hits smack dab in the middle of the first and the networks have to hit the pause button. Now you have several teams that suddenly have extra time to decide on their picks. You also have angry fans — and perhaps fans of the Titans, who pick 19th overall — wanting to know what’s going on. The broadcast partners, NFL Network and ESPN, will be asked to tap dance and drag things out, likely all while viewing number plummet.
Simply put, it could be a disaster.
That’s why the league’s operations folks likely will be receiving hourly updates all night and morning as the event nears, with an eye on exactly when and where potential changes to the plan might or might not happen.
We’ve had lightning-delayed NFL games before, and fans patiently will wait in the concourse while the stadium is cleared and the weather passes. But we’ve never had a weather delay during the draft. Could Thursday make history in that regard?
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