'It's the start': With NFL Draft, U.S. Open, Detroit again is a destination for top sporting events

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — In the early 2000s, Metro Detroit and the city itself enjoyed a steady stream of hosting duties when it came to marquee sporting events, including the 2004 Ryder Cup, 2005 MLB All-Star Game, 2006 Super Bowl, 2009 Final Four and 2010 Frozen Four.

Then, amid numerous factors, including the state's economic downturn and the city of Detroit's bankruptcy, the momentum stopped.

The momentum, clearly, is back, with news last week that Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township will host eight future United States Golf Association championships, including a pair of U.S. Opens, and Monday's announcement that the city of Detroit will host the 2024 NFL Draft.

Detroit was scheduled to host the 2020 Frozen Four and first- and second-round NCAA Tournament men's basketball games in 2021, but those events were scrubbed amid the pandemic. The 2020 Frozen Four was canceled, and the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament was moved to Indiana.

The Spirit of Detroit statue dons a Super Bowl jersey back in 2006 when Super Bowl XL was played at Ford Field.

"It's a big day for the city," said Dave Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission. "It's probably been five years in the making. We took a couple early runs at it, and got more serious recently, and here we are. It was a lot of hard work and collaboration with some great partners, including the Detroit Lions, obviously the city of Detroit, Visit Detroit, and the Detroit Sports Commission. It was a ton of people behind the scenes to make this a reality.

"It truly is a community initiative."

From the 1960s until 2014, the NFL Draft was held in New York City, but in 2015, the league opted to open it up for cities to bid on. Since, it's been to Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Nashville and Cleveland. It was held virtually in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be in Las Vegas in 2022 and Kansas City in 2023, before coming to Detroit, with nearly a week's worth of free fan events planned around Campus Martius, Hart Plaza and other outdoor locations downtown.

The economic impact, as it always is for these big events, could be significant. Nashville in 2019 reported an estimated $75 million in direct spending and $120 million in economic impact from hosting the NFL Draft. Beachnau doesn't have exact Detroit projections, but he believes Nashville is a good benchmark.

"It'll have a huge economic benefit, no doubt about it — probably the biggest event (here) since the Super Bowl," Beachnau said. "It's only been eight years since the NFL took it outside of New York, and it's really grown into a Super Bowl-esque-sized event. Tens of thousands of people will be coming to town from all over the country. Because of how we're situated geographically, with so many other NFL markets (close), we expect to have great visitation from those markets, and internationally for that matter. The NFL's brand in Europe, we think, will stimulate some international travelers to Detroit. This is huge."

Besides that, boosting Detroit's image nationwide is key here, too, in terms of future travel and investment in the city. The NFL Draft, over three days, is watched by millions across the country.

There were several point people from the Detroit Sports Commission in helping land the NFL Draft, which beat out Green Bay and Washington, D.C., to host in 2024. Chief among them was former Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who chairs the Detroit Sports Organizing Corp. That committee features some of Detroit and Metro Detroit's biggest movers and shakers, among them the likes of Lions president Rod Wood, national broadcaster and Michigan native Mike Tirico and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem.

The DSC was instrumental in bringing the Division I NCAA wrestling championships to Little Caesars Arena earlier this month, and LCA will host an NCAA Tournament men's basketball regional in 2024.

And, Beachnau said, all of these events, including the 2024 NFL Draft, is just the start — or, more appropriately, the restart.

Not that Beachnau is willing to tip his hand on other showcase events in the works, though it's at least known the Detroit Sports Commission has long been interested in hosting the Big Ten football championship game and Big Ten men's basketball tournament.

"Absolutely," said Beachnau, "it's the start of more things to come."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984