INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The optimism regarding the NFL Scouting Combine’s long-term viability in the city it has called home since 1987 is undeniable.
Listen to Jim Irsay, who, along with Chris Ballard, has spearheaded the Indianapolis Colts’ borough of support. He ramped up the “long-term’’ dialogue Sunday.
“We look forward to having it here for years to come,’’ he said.
Listen to Jeff Foster, the president of the locally-based NFL Scouting Combine.
“I feel more confident than I did a year or two ago with regard to longevity in Indianapolis,’’ he said. “Obviously my desire is for it to be here for 30 more years.’’
And listen to Chris Gahl, Visit Indy’s senior vice-president of marketing and communications.
“We’ve always positioned the city as the best place in the world to conduct the Combine because of all of the intricacies that are built up in and around the event,’’ he said. “Nobody can do it better or more efficient.
“We’ll be fortunate to keep them through 2025, but know that we have to work with a sense of urgency.’’
More than 330 draft-eligible players began arriving in town Sunday, and soon were followed by hundreds of NFL types – general managers, head coaches, scouts and medical personnel. Lucas Oil Stadium serves as the hub, and the spokes stretch to the Crowne Plaza, the Convention Center, IU Health facilities and downtown hotels.
While the local optimism is understandable, one thing can’t be stressed enough: the only certainty is the Combine returning for 2021. There’s also a good chance it’s back in ’22 because of the massive logistical challenges in relocating to Los Angeles, the long-speculated suitor, in what would be a short turnaround time.
The NFL and city officials agreed to a two-year contract last year that tied the Combine to Indy through 2021. Included in that deal are year-to-year rollover options through ’25. It’s believed a decision on subsequent years, in this case 2022, will be made within 8-to-12 weeks of the conclusion of this week’s event.
Because of Indy’s popularity in luring conventions, the city already has taken measures to host the Combine through 2025.
“We’ve got the hotel rooms and the convention center and the stadium lined up to be able to accommodate the Combine through 2025,’’ Gahl said. “At the end of every year we have a healthy sit-down with the NFL to assess how we did and how things should evolve and change and be enhanced.’’
Visit Indy estimates the Combine’s economic impact to the city approaching $9 million. It’s impossible to gauge the value of the city’s constant exposure as part of NFL Network’s extensive coverage, which for the first time features on-field workouts in prime time.
“We’re playing to win,’’ Gahl said. “We’ve got it through 2021. It’s healthy to evaluate every year after that, how to make it better.
“We feel an urgency to earn their business back year-in and year-out. We don’t take it for granted. It’s ours to lose.’’
Sunday wasn’t the first time Irsay had tossed his support behind the Combine making Indy it’s permanent home. But he seemed more adamant this time.
“If you talk to general managers, if you talk to head coaches, if you talk to team doctors, no one does it like we can do it here,’’ he said. “It’s important to us. It’s a big economic impact for this city. We don’t take that lightly.’’
Irsay and Ballard have sat in on many of the preparatory meetings with the city, NFL and Combine officials.
“That’s an active owner in the room. That’s an active GM in the room,’’ Gahl said. “That support is felt and one of the reasons we’ve locked it up for as long as we have so far.’’
The trouble is, the Combine’s increased popularity and money-making potential makes it ripe for a larger market. The NFL has taken the draft on the road – last year in Nashville, this April in Las Vegas – with impressive results.
Of course, staging a three-day draft event – much more glitz than substance – pales in comparison to what it takes to effectively and efficiently run the Combine. Remember, its fundamental purpose is to evaluate more than 300 players – medicals, physicals, psychological tests, on-field workouts – for the April draft.
“I see us locking it up long term,’’ Irsay said. “The main thing is that we do it better than anyone else. I mean, no one can do it as good as us. “And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.’’