CANTON, Ohio — Representatives of the NFL on Thursday toured Northeast Ohio evaluating the region, which is one of five finalists to host the league’s 2019-2020 draft.
The day started at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton where plans are already underway for an eventual Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village to include a motel on site along with other football-related destinations.
The Hall of Fame invited dozens of supporters and football fans to Tom Benson Stadium for a surprise welcome for the delegation; those in the crowd chanted “welcome home.”
Hall of Fame President David Baker spoke briefly to the crowd acknowledging that the region, including Cleveland and Canton, is in competition with other cities like Las Vegas Nashville and Kansas City for the draft.
But Baker said none of those other cities has the unique advantage of offering a host site that already has a destination for fans of every NFL team.
“We guard the history of the game right here,” said Baker, adding that the 2019-2020 season will also be a historic one for the league and make Canton perfect for the draft.
“When we have this draft it will be the beginning in 2019 of the 100th season for the NFL,” explained Baker.
“There’s only one place where the game began and there’s only one place where that hundredth season can be celebrated: right here in Canton along with our partners, the Cleveland Browns,” said Baker.
Representatives of the Cleveland Browns, along with the cities of Cleveland and Canton on Thursday, also helped host the NFL delegation, accompanying them on an itinerary that included stops in both cities.
Baker said recent history has also shown that the region is more than capable of hosting an event like the draft, which he says brought an estimated 250,000 people and a $100-million impact to the city of Philadelphia in 2017.
Even though the entire Hall of Fame Village project will not yet be completed in time for the 2019 draft, Baker believes there are already enough resources in place to demonstrate that the region is more than capable of hosting the draft.
“I was blown away by the Cavaliers championship parade. We put on an enshrinement here every year that brings 700,000 people for that week of events, so we know how to put on a big party here in Northeast Ohio and we know we can do a great job for the draft,” said Baker.
The NFL representatives made no public statements during Thursday’s visit.
Kansas City is offering a package that reportedly includes Union Station, Washington Square Park, Crown Center and a collection of other sites in the city.
Las Vegas is certainly a destination city that can easily show off its glitter in spite of not having an NFL franchise in the city.
The Broncos are helping in the effort to lure the draft to Denver where a convention center is expected to be a part of the proposal.
Nashville, best known as a destination for country music fans, is also a finalist with the Tennessee Titans helping make their pitch.
This year’s NFL draft will be held at at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. You can watch it on FOX 8.
Fans and supporters who turned out to try and help make the pitch for Canton on Thursday believe the location and the timing is perfect for Northeast Ohio.
“This is where pro football was started and this would be an awesome place to bring the draft. The energy and the enthusiasm of the community is wonderful,” said Neena Miller.
“This is the birthplace of football, and for their centennial celebration it should go back to where it all began,” said Mary Blahos.
“We love football here in Northeast Ohio and I think that it’s going to be the perfect place to celebrate the last hundred years — the courage, the character, the commitment that made this part of the fabric of America and to launch it for the next hundred years,” said Baker.
The NFL is expected to announce its decision in May.