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Las Vegas gears for record turnout, economic impact with NFL draft

No one knows how many people will be in town this week when NFL draft festivities begin Thursday.

But it will be a lot — almost certainly a record-breaking number — and the economic impact is expected to shatter all Las Vegas and NFL standards for a special event.

“Las Vegas’ tourism industry was built for signature special events like this, and we are ready,” said Virginia Valentine, president and CEO of the Nevada Resort Association.

Consider that Nashville, Tennessee, the host for the 2019 draft — the last live draft event before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down — drew an estimated 600,000 people and an estimated economic impact of $223.9 million in direct and indirect spending in that city.

That 600,000 attendance estimate was a total over three days and was arrived at with the help of NFL OnePass app check-ins. The free app provides information on schedules, player appearances, contests and other digital features during the three-day event, Thursday through Saturday.

The Nashville area has more than 53,000 hotel rooms. Las Vegas has around 150,000.

Like New Year’s Eve?

For those looking for an apples-to-oranges comparison to a familiar Southern Nevada event, consider the 2019 New Year’s Eve celebration in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated attendance at that pre-COVID celebration to be 328,000 with an economic impact of $491.2 million. That year’s celebration occurred on a Tuesday night.

If Las Vegas draft attendees are counted the way Nashville counted its attendance, Las Vegas could potentially host close to 1 million people. Nashville has noted that 75 percent of its out-of-town visitors attended multiple days of the draft while 50 percent of its local residents were there more than one day.

Now, consider the 2020 CES trade show, the last big pre-COVID gathering of the consumer electronics industry. That four-day event drew 171,000 people and produced an estimated economic impact of $294.1 million.

In either case, the economic impact was far greater than what Nashville produced as a draft host.

The LVCVA isn’t providing an estimate on attendance or spending this year since it has no historical data on which to base a guess. It does plan to do follow-ups once the event is over.

Harry Reid International Airport already was anticipating greater midweek crowds with NFL draft spectators coming in and National Association of Broadcasters participants going out. The five-day NAB trade show ends Wednesday.

An airport spokesman said that general aviation terminals also are expected to be busier than usual with private jets flying in and out of the airport. Airport officials will be encouraging private planes to fly into Henderson Executive Airport and North Las Vegas Airport as alternatives. In the past, airport officials have incentivized using the other airports with less expensive fuel costs.

None of that has stopped tourism leaders and industry analysts from speculating about attendance for draft activities.

‘Historic weekend’

“It’s going to be a historic weekend with tremendous economic implications for Las Vegas, given the level of visitation we’re expecting and prepared to welcome,” Valentine said. “We are confident Las Vegas’ tourism industry will set a new standard in hosting NFL events while breaking attendance records.”

While some observers buy into the idea that the draft would be comparable to three straight nights of New Years’ Eve-like celebrations, others aren’t as sure.

“While more than two years in the making, the NFL draft is one of the iconic sports events each year that prior to the pandemic drew over 600,000 fans to Nashville,” said industry analyst Brendan Bussmann, founder of Las Vegas-based B Global. “This is Las Vegas and we always like to exceed the expectation so I think it is reasonable to have this be on par with other large events like New Year’s Eve.

“It further cements Las Vegas as the sports and entertainment capital of the world,” Bussmann said. “It’s one of the few places that can host an event of this magnitude along with exceptional hospitality. It also continues to show the growth of the destination as we continue to look at hosting these one-of-a-kind events.”

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, isn’t as confident that evenings of draft activities will match New Year’s Eve levels.

Setting bar for Super Bowl

“While there will be spectators, we may not see the same kind of audience we do for New Year’s because it is less likely that people will be able to take off from work; however, the room rates indicate there is a high demand,” Belarmino said. “The interest this garners will set the bar for when we host the Super Bowl and might help attract other professional sports teams.”

Demand does seem high at hotels this week, with room rates well exceeding the April 2021 average daily room rate, which, according to the LVCVA, was $109.36 a night. On the Strip, the average was $113.77, and in downtown Las Vegas, $86.03 a night.

Based on a survey of hotel room rates listed on hotels.com for 149 motel and hotel properties on Thursday, the average rate for a three-night stay Thursday through Saturday was $244.77 per night — which was below the posted rates in a similar survey conducted April 6. Those rates also are less than what properties were asking during two weekends of concerts by Korean K-pop performers BTS and rates for this week’s National Association of Broadcasters trade show.

Four properties were offering rooms during the draft for under $100 a night — Circus Circus and Arizona Charlie’s Boulder Highway ($88), Railroad Pass, between Henderson and Boulder City ($98), and Silver Sevens ($99).

On the upper end, the Skylofts at MGM Grand were offered at $1,567 a night and the Aria Sky Suites were going for $1,525 a night.

Hotels.com indicated 17 of its listed properties were already sold out.

Analysts concur that the draft’s presence in Southern Nevada will solidify the city’s relationship with the NFL and some of the events associated with the draft — think the “floating” stage on the lake in front of Bellagio where draftees will be introduced to the media — will be must-see TV that will bolster future decisions for tourists considering a trip to Las Vegas.

Driving business to city

Josh Swissman, founding partner of Las Vegas-based Strategy Organization, is pumped about the promising potential of the draft.

“I’m psyched about anything that drives business to the city, and the draft is certainly one of those events,” he said. “I’m psyched about anything that drives professional sports’ presence in the valley as well, and this certainly does that. Just generally, it’s a cool event.”

Swissman acknowledged that it’s the kind of event that when compared to “the Super Bowl or anything else like that, flies under the radar a little bit.”

“But when you look at the draft and everything that it represents in the cities it has been in in the past, it’s a big tourism driver and visitation tied to it is tremendous,” he said. “The draft just further cements Las Vegas’ position in the nation as a professional sports destination.”

The Nashville draft was viewed by that city’s convention and visitors bureau as the most successful multiple-day event in its history with 47.5 million people from 115 countries watching events on broadcasts and on livestreams as the riverfront of the Cumberland River became the focus of all things NFL. The same, and probably more, are expected to tune in for the Las Vegas version.

“You can sense the intense excitement and interest from fans and those who want to be able to say they were here for the draft due to the unparalleled experience of having a free NFL event in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip,” Valentine said. “The fact that the NFL fan events are free will draw more people and further benefit our economy as visitors spend those dollars not used for tickets on other Las Vegas attractions and experiences such as dining, entertainment, nightlife and shopping. What an incredible way to showcase our community and the world-class resorts, entertainment and attractions found only in Las Vegas.”

Only positives

“There are only positives with hosting an event such as the NFL draft as it will have spillover effects for both the business and leisure customer to enjoy the destination long into the future,” Bussmann added. “This is as much about the now as it is for down the road as we continue to recover and build upon our previous success.”

With some Las Vegas entertainment onstage for the three nights of the draft, the excitement of the city is expected to shine through.

“The biggest benefit to the city will be that an amazing draft announces to the world that, once again, Las Vegas is the most exciting city on the planet,” Belarmino said.

Swissman feels for the city that will host the draft next year.

“This is what our city’s built for,” he said. “If you look at what we’ve done historically, anytime we’ve done some of these big events, Vegas knocks it out of the park compared to other previous destinations. I feel for the destination that has to host the draft next year. They’ll have a tough act to follow.”

For those keeping score, that’s Kansas City, Missouri, on April 27-29, 2023.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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