Indianapolis fighting to keep NFL scouting combine, which might land in Los Angeles

Eric Edholm

The NFL draft is officially a must-see event. Ratings for the draft were bonkers this past week.

The league has hit a home run on the idea of expanding this event, and it might have even bigger plans for the draft’s precursor, the NFL scouting combine.

Indianapolis has been home to the combine since 1987 as a sort of middle-of-the-country meeting place every February. It’s become a rite of passage and — for industry folks — a tradition. They eat at the same restaurants, drink at the same bars and love the setup of the medical and training facilities of the Indianapolis Colts and Lucas Oil Stadium.

But the NFL wants to capitalize on the insane popularity of the draft, and transitively the combine, to turn it into a primetime TV event. Which is why there’s a decent chance Indianapolis could lose the combine at some point.

This would hit the city hard in a few ways. Indianapolis is throwing its hat into the ring to potentially host the draft one of these years, and losing the combine might be a blow to that end, according to the Indianapolis Star. Additionally, city officials calculate that hosting the combine brings in an additional $10 million in revenue annually.

Indianapolis has one year left on its agreement with the league to host the event, and we might soon find out if that will last beyond 2020.

“Retaining the NFL Scouting Combine is paramount, as they have met here since 1987 and we only have them booked through next year,” Visit Indy senior vice president Chris Gahl told the Star. “We are hopefully optimistic that in the next months, the NFL will make a decision and the Combine will remain safe and sound in Indianapolis.”

Where the NFL scouting combine might end up

Los Angeles feels like the most likely destination. NBC’s Peter King wrote back in March that the league has toyed with the idea of moving some or all of the combine events to L.A. as a way to boost TV ratings and house them at the Rams’ (and NFL Network’s) new facility, which is slated to open in the next year.

There are still hangups with that idea, and NFL scouts, coaches, agents and media will tell you that the convenience of Indianapolis cannot be beat. Everything is walkable in the city and it’s never more than a four-hour flight for anyone no matter where they are located. Plus, the hundreds of MRI machines and ample space for holding both the medical and athletic testing locations make Indy an ideal spot.

The NFL scouting combine has been a staple in Indianapolis since 1987, but the league could move the event in a few years. (AP Photo)
The NFL scouting combine has been a staple in Indianapolis since 1987, but the league could move the event in a few years. (AP Photo)

But those folks don’t make the decisions, and most of those calls come back to the idea of: How can we make this more of a moneymaker? That ultimately could push the combine out and make it harder for Indy to grab the draft in an upcoming year.

And then there’s this: The NRA recently held its annual meeting in Indianapolis on the same weekend that Nashville hosted this year’s draft. Much like the bachelorette parties that were ruined by the NFL taking over Nashville, a city such as Indianapolis might not be able to host both a draft and an NRA convention at the same time.

OK, so perhaps that’s a problem on a different scale than the bachelorettes.

Can Indy lose the combine and still land but a future draft?

Perhaps those two things are separate entities and are independent of one another. The draft has become a three-day event (broadcast on three networks: ESPN, NFL Network and ABC) and so it’s a matter of having enough hotel rooms and space for many thousands of people descending on the Circle City.

Indianapolis is no stranger to big sports events, having hosted several NCAA Final Fours and even having done a bang-up job as a Super Bowl host in 2012. It was well-attended, easily accessed, amply suited to house visitors for the week and there are more hotels slated to open in the area.

It also could be the kind of bone the league could throw Indianapolis’ way to offset the potential loss of the combine on an annual basis. Losing that estimated $10 million in revenue would hurt, but ask Nashville — or prior draft hosts such as Chicago, Philadelphia or Dallas — what one good year can do for the city.

There were an estimated 600,000 people attending this year’s draft in Nashville, and that was way up — perhaps as much as 200,000 more people — from Dallas in 2018. Dallas officials report an economic boon for the city of $125 million, and Philly had a bump of $90 million. One draft might be worth as much as 10 years’ worth of combines, if you want to look at it that way.

So while Indianapolis tries to hang onto its baby, the combine, it is concurrently trying to lure the draft. Those efforts might be tied together, but they also could end up separating. And we might hear in the combine months whether the league believes it can do better with the combine elsewhere.

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