INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The city will resume its position as epicenter of the NFL universe for one week next year, and very likely in 2020.
After that, the future location of the NFL Scouting Combine is a bit fuzzy.
Place the decision on the desk of Jeff Foster, and the president of locally-based National Football Scouting Inc. makes one thing crystal clear: There’s no place like home.
“When I think about what we’ve accomplished in the last five days with the help of our partners in the city, I wouldn’t want to try to do it anywhere else,’’ Foster said Saturday evening. “I think everybody is really happy and really comfortable here in Indianapolis.
“I’m trying to make sure that everybody understands we’re not taking that for granted.’’
The Combine has called Indy home since 1987, and it appears that will be the case at least the next two years. The current contract with the city runs through 2020, although there is an opt-out clause.
“We are committed for ’19,’’ Foster said, “and in a few short weeks we’ll be locked in for ’20 as well.’’
Ideally, he added, discussions between the NFL and city officials will produce an extension past 2020. It’s important from a planning standpoint to lock in dates and space at the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium and downtown hotels.
One of the NFL’s premier offseason events attracts hundreds of general managers, head coaches, assistants and scouts from the 32 teams to town to evaluate more than 300 draft-eligible players. The Combine also has become a media magnet: approximately 1,300 credentials were issued this year.
“We all feel very good about the interest to stay here from the club perspective,’’ Foster said.
When talking with GMs and coaches, he routinely emphasizes the “smooth operation’’ of the Combine in all facets, including the convenience of everything being downtown.
“The club people love the ability to stay here and walk from their hotels to the stadium, to the interviews at the player hotel,’’ Foster said.
Perhaps the city’s most valuable resource in operating an efficient Combine is the presence of medical partner IU Health. Every imaginable medical need, including unexpected exams, is with 10- or 15-minute drive.
Yet it’s hardly a given the Combine remains a fixture on the city’s calendar. In fact, the quality of the product churned out by Foster and his army of aides and corporate partners, and the NFL’s increased focus on fan engagement might actually work against Indy. Saturday, the NFL Combine Experience resulted in approximately 6,000 fans being on hand at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Three times as much as we we’ve ever had,’’ Foster said. “It was a great event. We’re going to continue to build on that.’’
Several years ago, the NFL looked long and hard at moving the Combine to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
“Ultimately they decided that wasn’t the right location,’’ Foster said.
Recently, speculation has increased on the possibility of relocating the Combine to Los Angeles, or even Las Vegas. The new home of the Rams and Chargers in Inglewood opens for the 2020 season although completion of the expansive football complex is expected to continue for an additional few years.
The earliest the Combine could relocate to the West Coast probably would be 2021 or ’22.
The NFL always is exploring options in expanding and maximizing its brand and events. It already has broken with tradition and taken the draft on the road. Long-anchored in New York, it’s moved from Chicago to Philadelphia and will be held in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. next month. Indianapolis has an interest in hosting the draft at some point.
“The league has a real emphasis on fan engagement,’’ Foster said. “Part of that is providing equitable opportunity for all clubs and owners to host different events. We know not every city can host a Super Bowl, and maybe not every city can host a draft. There certainly is a drive for continued efforts towards fan engagement and that includes the opportunity for all clubs to have that.
“Naturally (the NFL) thinks about moving (the Combine) from that perspective. No question the success they’ve had moving the draft the last couple of years fuels that fire and fuels that interest. I think it’s OK to continue to talk about that.’’
It’s worth pointing out the logistics of staging a draft are dwarfed by what it takes to operate the Combine.
Whenever discussion resumes about a possible relocation – and they most certainly will – Foster’s pushback figures to be strong.
“If they told me I had to move the non-medical testing that we do and move it next year – the meetings, all of the written tests, the cognitive-ability tests, the on-field testing, the measurements, the interviews at night and during the day – that wouldn’t be a challenge,’’ Foster said. “We could do that pretty simply.
“It’s the medical piece. Quick frankly, it’s a unique event. The only people who really know the logistics are our office and IU Health. I feel like it’s my job to make sure I educate the people at the league office so they understand how challenging that would be.
“You can’t put a value on 31 years of experience.’’