KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the NFL Draft takes the spotlight in the spring of 2023, Kansas City will bask in its glow. The league's owners awarded that year's draft to the city on Wednesday, culminating nearly five years of planning, lobbying and persistence on behalf city officials and the Chiefs organization.
Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said his family, the fan base and city are excited to land the draft.
"I know our fans are going to go absolutely crazy," Hunt said. "It's going to be really, really special."
The league also award the 2021 draft to Cleveland. The 2022 draft remains open for bids with no site currently favored by league officials.
Kansas City landing one of the crown jewels of the NFL's annual calendar serves as a tremendous win for the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation along with the Chiefs.
“Hometown pride runs deep in the Midwest," said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Sports Commission, said in a statement. "We are excited to show the world our unparalleled passion for sports — especially our passion for professional football. Fans from every corner of the country should look forward to experiencing Kansas City’s hospitality, our vibrant food scene, innovative neighborhoods, historic attractions and a whole lot of fun in 2023."
The Sports Commission initially submitted its bid in August 2017, but the plan for luring the NFL draft to Kansas City began in earnest in 2015. That's when the league moved the event out of New York City for the first time. Nelson, along with other local representatives attended the draft in 2015 to lobby for Kansas City as a destination and brainstorm ideas. The commission sent delegations to the draft during each of the past three seasons in Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville as well.
In 2018 the NFL named Kansas City as a finalist along with Denver, Las Vegas, Nashville and Cleveland for two immediate draft selections. The league awarded the 2019 draft to Nashville in May 2018, then later selected Las Vegas as host for the 2020 draft in December.
The NFL Draft has blossomed from a media spectacle into a fan-fest extravaganza since moving out of New York City. An estimated crowd of 600,000 people attended this year's draft in Nashville. That eclipsed the record of 250,000 spectators for the 2017 draft in Philadelphia.
Kansas City's initial bid included three distinct options for hosting the draft, including the historic district featuring Union Station, the National World War I Museum and Memorial and the Kauffman Center; the Grand Boulevard district utilizing the Power & Light District, the Sprint Center, the Midland Theater and the Kansas City Convention Center; and the Truman Sports Complex with Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.
The commission's plans for the event, however, have mushroomed since the group submitted its initial bid. While Union Station and the WWI Memorial will serve as the main site for the draft, other locations in downtown and across the region will likely play roles in the event.
The plan also leans heavily on Kansas City's proximity to military facilities across the Midwest. Whiteman Air Force Base, Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley all appear likely to be included in the three-day event.
Nelson said Kansas City expects to meet the league's requirements for three-, four- and five-star hotel rooms including facilities under construction, such as the 800-room convention hotel currently underway.
The availability of the new Kansas City International Airport terminal also played a key role in luring the draft. The new terminal does not appear likely to open sooner than early 2023. The combination of the airport terminal and new downtown hotels made Kansas City a stronger site for consideration in 2023 than in earlier years.
Hunt credited Nelson, the sports commission and the city's leadership for their effort in landing the draft.
"They've worked extremely hard to put together what we think is an outstanding bid," Hunt said. "I look forward already to 2023 when Kansas City and our great fans are going to roll out the red carpet for the NFL."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement he expects Kansas City to serve as a strong host for the draft.
“We know Chiefs fans will come out to celebrate along with thousands of fans from teams around the country for an incredible experience as we welcome the next generation of NFL players,” Goodell said.
Goodell also spoke highly of Kansas City as a potential host site during a visit to Arrowhead Stadium in June 2018.
“The game and the standards keep going up,” Goodell said at the time. “But I think this community, in fact I met with some of them when we were in Philadelphia, I think they could do a great job with the draft.”
Goodell, who has praised Arrowhead Stadium as a positive backdrop for the NFL for prime time games, said the strength of the fan base also appeals to the league.
“To me it’s about passion,” the commissioner said. “It’s about passion and having your own experience for a draft that’s going to reflect well on this community and football.”