Las Vegas and the NFL Draft: What’s the Best Venue?

Matt Gutierrez
NFL Draft Las Vegas

Raiders President Marc Badain told the world Thursday that the team and Las Vegas were one of five finalist cities to host the 2019 or 2020 NFL Draft. Our own native Las Vegan Matt Gutierrez shares his thoughts on the possible big get for the city.

It’s amazing what $750 million in public funding can do to change someone’s perspective.

It wasn’t that long ago that the NFL wanted nothing to do with Las Vegas. They went so far as to ban ads showcasing Las Vegas from Super Bowl broadcasts.

The NFL “didn’t want to associate itself with any city that had legal sports gambling.”

Ironically, the ban started with Super Bowl XXXVII, which happened to feature the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders. In 2009 the rule was slightly amended to allow Las Vegas to advertise without showing any views of the Strip, or pictures of any gambling associated products, i.e., playing cards, slot machines, dice, etc.

Fast forward 15 years. Not only is Vegas the new soon-to-be home of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, the Raiders new stadium will be built in the shadow of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The league is also now looking at our fair city to be the host city of a future NFL Draft. Las Vegas has been selected as one of five cities in the running to host either the 2019 or 2020 NFL draft. The other four cities are Denver, Nashville, Kansas City, and a combination of Cleveland and Canton Ohio.

The biggest question now is: if Las Vegas hosts the NFL Draft, what’s the best venue?

As I stated in my Las Vegas Super Bowl article , the city of Las Vegas is perhaps the best in the nation to host big events. But do we really want to see the draft inside of one of our many arenas, or ballrooms, or theaters? While places like the brand new T-Mobile Arena, MGM Grand Garden Arena, and Mandalay Bay Events Center are prime spots, they don’t necessarily showcase the true essence of Las Vegas. If only the old Caesars Outdoor Arena were still around today. What a perfect site that would have been.

T-Mobile Arena

T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas shiny new arena and home to the NHL’s Golden Knights.

T-Mobile Arena seems like the most logical site to host the draft. It’s the shiny new home of the Vegas Golden Knights, and, without question, the most state of the art facility in the city. Yet, there isn’t anything exciting about sitting in an arena staring at a stage while the Commissioner calls out names.

If it is T-Mobile that wins out, why not hold the draft just outside the arena’s front doors?

The Park – described as an ” immersive, outdoor destination for dining and entertainment at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip” – has become the pre-game spot for every major event being held at T-Mobile. The Park includes a stretch of restaurants and bars that run from the Las Vegas Blvd. to T-Mobile between the New York New York Hotel and the Monte Carlo Hotel.  The Park ends at Toshiba Plaza, the courtyard style space just outside of the arena’s main entrance. It was the site for the team name and logo unveiling held for the Golden Knights in November of 2016. It also plays host to several pre-game activities for kids, and an ice skating rink during the holiday season. The space can get tight, though. Would it be enough room for something as large as the draft?

Las Vegas Festival Grounds

The Las Vegas Festival Grounds is a good venue, but far from better areas on The Strip.

The Las Vegas Festival Grounds sit on the south-west corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Sahara Ave. If size is your issue, then you should have no problem with this space. The 33-acre site was built to host the Rock in Rio music festival and has a capacity of 80,000. The NFL would have no problem setting up stages for the draft on a site that had three full sized music stages for Rock in Rio. But the north end of the Strip isn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing part of Las Vegas. It’s the oldest expanse of the famed Strip and doesn’t have all the “street side flair” and amenities that the southern end offers. The NFL will want to make the weekend as fan friendly of an experience as possible, and I don’t think that can be accomplished on this site.

Is there a site that hasn’t been completed yet that could possibly work? The Raiders Stadium is expected to be ready by June of 2020, just 1 month after the NFL draft date. Would enough of the Stadium be operational to host an event? The backdrop would be pretty amazing.

What about the new MSG Sphere? This radical design idea has just been added to the lineup of new concert venues being built behind the Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Construction on the project isn’t expected to start until late 2018, with a completion date on late 2020. Unfortunately, the Sphere won’t be ready to host anything in time for the draft.

My choice for the NFL Draft site would be in a parking lot situated on the north-west corner of Koval and Winnick. I know it doesn’t sound like much but wait till you see the view!

NFL Draft 2020

The parking lot that services the Linq and High Roller is Gutierrez’s favorite spot to host the NFL Draft.

The parking lot serves the High Roller, one of Las Vegas’ newest and most recognizable attractions. The High Roller is a 550 ft tall observation wheel that has become a feature in the Las Vegas skyline. Taking you on a 30-minute, one revolution ride, the wheel offers guests the opportunity to view the Las Vegas Strip never seen before. At night, the High Roller features an LED light show illuminating the entire wheel. It’s hard to find a better backdrop than a 550 ft tall, bright red, or blue, or whatever color is featured that night, observation wheel sitting just in front of the Las Vegas Strip.

Connected to the High Roller is the LINQ Promenade. Much like The Park at T-Mobile, the LINQ Promenade is home to several restaurants, bars, and entertainment sites stretching from the Strip to the wheel itself. It’s situated between the LINQ Hotel and the Flamingo Hotel. It’s also a short walk to some of the most famous hotels in the world like The Bellagio, Caesars Palace, and The Mirage. Fan experience would not be an issue. The area is centrally located on the Strip, and fans would have their choice of endless entertainment options.

Las Vegas NFL Draft

The Linq Promenade would be a great backdrop to the NFL Draft

As for the parking lot itself, it could easily be transformed into a festival like area much like what we saw from the last 3 drafts in both Chicago and Philadelphia. The site is at least four times larger than Toshiba Plaza at T-Mobile Arena.

The space, backdrop, and fan experience are all there. As of right now, I think it’s the perfect place to hold the draft. But for those of us that have lived here our whole lives, we know that the Vegas landscape changes faster than any other in the world. Who knows what amazing new venues could pop up before 2020 gets here.