When the NFL chose Philadelphia to host the 2017 draft, it quickly became clear one of the world’s most famous movie locations would be the perfect site to hold the three-day extravaganza.
“We had talked about a couple different venues for the NFL and they wanted the Rocky steps and they wanted the Art Museum,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told The Associated Press. “So that’s what we gave them. It will be a terrific event.”
Perhaps NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will run up the famous steps before announcing the No. 1 pick. Those same steps immortalized by fictional hero Rocky Balboa 41 years ago will serve as the backdrop for the elaborate stage, including a 3,000-seat, open-air theater, being constructed along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the NFL’s first outdoor draft.
The free event is being called the largest fan experience ever produced by the NFL. More than 200,000 people are expected to visit the half-mile area next week to enjoy the festivities. The first round begins Thursday night.
“There was no better way to highlight the city of Philadelphia than to showcase some of its most iconic venues — from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to the Franklin Institute,” NFL spokesman Kamran Mumtaz said.
Some tourists and residents in the area have been grumbling for weeks about the lack of access to sidewalks and roads, and about the giant stage blocking most of the iconic “Rocky” steps.
Visitors won’t be able to run up those steps and raise their arms triumphantly at the top the way Sylvester Stallone did in the movie, but they could walk up the steps from the side and they can visit the Rocky statue at the bottom.
Joaquim Marquet, of Valencia, Spain, came down to Philadelphia from New York City just to run up the steps Thursday.
“It was the one thing I wanted to do,” the 32-year-old said. “(It) was a bit disappointing, but I understand you can’t stop everything just for tourists.”
There will be a ton of other, fun activities for visitors inside the NFL Draft Experience, which stretches the length of 25 football fields.
One of the interactives includes an opportunity for fans to test their 40-yard dash time against players. Adults and kids can kick field goals, run through obstacles or try the new 100-yard zip line.
“I will not be on the zip line, but I’m sure the more adventurous will be lined up for it,” Kenney said.
Those who prefer to stay on the ground can get autographs from current and former players, take pictures with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and much more. Fans outside the theater can follow the draft on giant television screens.
“The NFL is really engaged in the fan experience process,” said Julie Coker Graham, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The City of Brotherly Love is getting used to major events. Philadelphia hosted the Democratic National Convention last summer and Pope Francis in 2015.
“We certainly do big events well,” Coker Graham said. “But to have the NFL choose us, our city, Philadelphia and then to choose the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the iconic steps of the Art Museum is kind of a dream come true.”
The 82nd NFL draft is returning to its birthplace for the first time since 1961 and 11th time overall. On February 8, 1936, the first NFL draft was held at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Teams took turns over nine rounds picking from 90 names written on a blackboard. There was no media coverage.
Times have changed. This year’s draft received its most fan interest since the event moved from New York in 2014. Chicago hosted the draft the past two years.
Philadelphia fans, especially Eagles fans, are known for their boorish behavior. A group of Eagles fans who traveled to New York in 1999 welcomed No. 2 overall pick Donovan McNabb with a chorus of boos he never forgot. Surely, Goodell will be jeered.
“Our fans are very passionate and also very educated when it comes to sports,” Coker Graham said. “We support our players and teams and we share our opinions. We know company is coming, so we always put on our best smile when company is coming.”
The NFL says the event is expected to generate $80 million in economic impact for the city. Mayor Kenney didn’t want to put a number on it.
“You can’t put a price tag on the positive exposure the city gets,” he said. “You can’t quantify the value of that.”
The full cost of the NFL draft is close to $25 million. The NFL will cover $20 million, and the remaining $5 million is coming from private funding secured by the city.
“The pope cost us $8 million and the NFL draft is costing us $500,000 so the ROI (return on investment) on that is quite spectacular,” Kenney said.
For Philly, the Hail Mary is greater than the Holy Father.