Dierks: Attending the NFL Draft promises to be a spectacle. It delivered.
On all counts, the weekend delivered a unique experience, and it was easy to see why making the draft into a traveling circus has been a successful move for the NFL.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I don’t remember the last time I missed out on watching the NFL Draft.
Seven rounds featuring 250-plus selections over three days in the most direct collision of the often-separated worlds of college and professional football. As an avid fan of both, I consider the first three rounds of the draft to be appointment television.
In terms of sports programming with no action, it doesn’t get any better.
That is, until you experience those moments live.
Last weekend, I attended the NFL Draft in person, this year hosted in Kansas City, Missouri, to check off a major event from my sporting bucket list. On all counts, the weekend delivered a unique experience, and it was easy to see why making the draft into a traveling circus has been a successful move for the NFL.
For those less familiar, since the NFL Draft became a roaming event in 2015, it’s evolved into a football-themed fair. There are various attractions — ranging from museum-like experiences to autograph and photo opportunities to games — with numerous memorabilia tents and local food vendors. And that’s all before rounding the corner to see the draft stage, where the main event was set to take place.
There was something for everyone. All 300,000 of them.
According to estimates, Thursday’s first round drew a capacity crowd of 125,000 fans. Would-be spectators started to be turned away because there was no more room on the sweeping north lawn of the World War I Memorial, which ran down to Union Station, where the largest stage in NFL Draft history had been constructed. More than once, I overheard comparisons to crowds commonly seen at large music festivals. The aerial views from the television broadcast showing the mass of humanity were stunning.
NFL Draft Attendance:— Front Office Sports (@FOS) May 1, 2023
2015, Chicago: 200,000
2016, Chicago: 225,000
2017, Philadelphia: 250,000
2018, Dallas: 200,000
2019, Nashville: 600,000
2021, Cleveland: 160,000
2022, Las Vegas: 300,000
2023, Kansas City: 312,000pic.twitter.com/TfhPrF4kRb
The second and third days of the event drew crowds of 84,000 and 103,000, respectively, bringing the estimated total to 312,000.
My favorite part? If possible, you probably could have made friends with all of them.
Across two days, I was a part of three conversations with six to eight total strangers that lasted, at a minimum, 45 minutes. Regardless of fandom, we were all there for the same love of sport, and it created an upbeat buzz around the grounds that lasted from the time I arrived (more than eight hours prior to the first pick on Thursday) to the time I left Friday night. It was a communal experience, and events like those are why we love sports in the first place.
I went (primarily) to see my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, make a few picks. Instead, I found myself guessing almost each and every pick with those around me in the crowd, as we all took turns putting on our NFL insider prognostication hats.
Of course, it was a cherry on top to see the Steelers bring in a haul of fun draft picks and be widely considered one of the "winners" of the draft weekend. In the wake of my in-person draft experience, I'm even more excited than normal for football season to roll around again.
Four more months.
I know the draft isn't for everyone — even though I watch intently every year, I can't imagine planning a yearly trip around it — but for all football fans, I believe the live NFL Draft is worth experiencing at least once.