Uncertainty is not a familiar feeling for Charlotte Jones Anderson.
When you are the executive vice president and chief branding officer for the Dallas Cowboys, not to mention the daughter of team owner Jerry Jones, potential business partners are usually the one’s pitching you their ideas.
But trying to win the bid to host the 2018 NFL Draft isn’t a remotely typical experience. The process placed Anderson in the unusual position of having to convince NFL officials that AT&T Stadium and the DFW area could elevate the status of an event that could become, in the words of senior vice president of events Peter O’Reilly, “eventually on-par with the Super Bowl.”
Last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell publicly announced that AT&T Stadium and the Cowboys had won the right to host the 2018 NFL Draft. The process and plans to secure the bid though, had been in motion for years.
“This was the question I was asking all along to Peter: How do we get it? What do I need to do? ... Because it’s not a process that is set in stone” Anderson said.
Thanks to the leadership of Anderson, combined with the efforts of the Dallas Sports Commission, as well as city officials from Arlington, Dallas and Frisco, the Cowboys created a unique vision of the event at AT&T Stadium that ultimately convinced executives at the league office, as well as the ownership committee that makes the final decision.
When asked about which owners comprised the selection committee, Anderson referred the inquiry to the league office. The NFL, in turn, declined to discuss further specifics on that committee or the precise timeline of the bid process out of respect for the other cities and organizations that were in the running.
O’Reilly did confirm to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal back in April that 23 cities, including Canton, Ohio, (the home of the NFL Hall of Fame) wanted to host the event.
Even though there is not a final layout in place yet, the organizing entities have a good idea about how they are going to provide the largest setting in NFL history.
According to O’Reilly and Anderson, the tentative goal is to place the draft stage, the team tables and the waiting area for the players and families all into one end zone. The entire event will be free of charge, and will allow fans inside the stadium to see the player selection process from their seats.
For the first time, organizers will “create a standing deck environment that flows out into the plaza level,” and open the end-zone doors so that fans can see into the stadium and some of the indoor activity will flow out into the NFL Draft Experience plaza and surrounding parking lots.
“They’ve done so many unique events there, whether that’s concerts or movie premiers, or award shows, and we wanted to make sure the draft is different and stands out among all of those, and that was a great dialogue we had with Charlotte and the team throughout the process,” O’Reilly said. “I think what we envisioned here with them is different than those things.”
In previous host cities, fans were all funneled into crowded spaces in major downtown areas. Having the entirety of the event in Arlington will provide the benefits of a central location for all potential attendees spread out across the DFW area. It could also simplify travel plans for out-of-town fans flying into DFW International Airport.
Anderson and local officials also sold the league office on the inclusiveness of the spectacle.
“What makes the draft great is the representation of the whole, because you’re nothing if you don’t have a rival, right?” Anderson said. “...We want those people from those other cities because that’s what’s going to benefit our city, our community and it’s what’s going to make the draft better.”
In terms of recent history, the battle to host Armani-clad college kids as they walk across a stage and hold up a jersey truly began when the event left Radio City Music Hall after the 2014 draft. In Anderson’s view, the decision to move it to Chicago in 2015 and 2016, and then to Philadelphia in 2017 made sense. The league saw the benefits of hosting the festivities in two highly-concentrated areas of people with historically scenic backdrops such as Grant Park in Chicago and the iconic ‘Rocky Steps’ outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In Philadelphia, the returns were especially strong. A projected economic impact study estimated roughly 200,000 people and $56 million would pour into the city alone. By the end of the three-day event last April, the results wildly exceeded expectations as the draft saw the city bring in almost $95 million and around 250,000 attendees.
Since the draft went mobile in 2015, the Dallas Sports Commission, which covers several of the major cities across the DFW area, was doing research into how the area could best accommodate the event if the NFL did contract them as a client. The organization that helped bring the Final Four, the NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl XLV to the area partnered with the several major cities in the area and the Cowboys to win the bid.
“We look at it more from a city standpoint in terms of what do we need to bring to the table to ensure that the fans, the team and the league have a great experience by reducing as many problems as we can along the way,” Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission said.
Since 2014, Anderson and the Cowboys’ organization had always made it known they wanted to bring the event to Dallas. And even as Philadelphia city officials were making a strong case to bring the draft back to the city of brotherly love in 2018, Anderson, in conjunction with the other DFW organizing bodies, was pitching more appealing options to O’Reilly and his team in the league office.
After all the proposals had been made, the potential of holding the entire three-day event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington was too enticing for the decision makers to resist.
“For us, the question was: How could you combine the experiences of Radio City with what the other two cities have done?” Anderson said. “Basically we’re trying to scale Radio City… keeping the real authenticity of what the draft is supposed to be, but then you add it to the festival and have it all in one spot, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
“This is unique, because while the Eagles and Bears were close partners with us throughout [the process], this is the stadium the Cowboys built and live in, and they have a great passion for how it can come to life for big events,” he said.
The process had its fair share of bumps in the road. Earlier this year, Texas’ ‘bathroom bill,’ which was not passed into law, threatened to impact future sporting events across the state, including AT&T Stadium.
Up until a week ago, owner Jerry Jones was involved in an escalating public battle with Roger Goodell over his handling of the Ezekiel Elliot suspension and the national anthem protests. Concurrently, Jones was also threatening to sue the league because he disagreed with several owners on the NFL’s compensation committee about the terms of Goodell’s next contract.
There isn’t an official economic impact study, but O’Reilly and local city officials are very confident that the accessibility and layout of this draft setup should allow the DFW area to set benchmarks in attendance and revenue for the city and surrounding cities.
“I think the league chose to come here because Texas is the heart of football, and this is where the game is strong and is viable, and probably more so than any other part of the country,” Anderson said. “The league is very smart about things like that. They want to go where there is the most engagement that they can possibly get.”
Peter Dawson: 817-390-7657