Detroit wins bid to host 2024 NFL draft

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After four straight last-place finishes, with no division titles since 1993 and no playoff wins since 1991 and no Super Bowl appearances since, well, ever, it is hard to remember the last day like this, where it felt like the Detroit Lions were at the center of the footballing world.

Just hours after the franchise landed the lead role on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the NFL announced it has chosen the Lions’ bid to host the 2024 NFL draft. Green Bay and Washington D.C. were the other finalists.

With that, one of the great sports towns in the country will welcome its first major national event since the Tigers made the World Series in 2012.

“Needless to say, this is a great day for us,” Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp said just moments after the final vote here at the NFL owners meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla. “It represents a lot of hard work on part of the Lions and on part of the Detroit Sports Commission and the mayor. It really is terrifically exciting. I think it will be huge for our wonderful city to showcase itself and our fans. We are very, very proud.”

Landing the draft wasn’t easy. The Lions began making their pitch to the league all the way back in 2017, trying to sell the other owners on the history of this city, the convenience of the arena district, world-class venues like the Fox Theater, proximity to so many professional and college football markets, as well as the football fever that runs through this fan base’s long-suffering veins.

It didn’t work. The draft bounced from its once-permanent home of New York City to Chicago (2015-16), Philadelphia (2017), Dallas (2018), Nashville (2019) and Cleveland (2021). Las Vegas was awarded the 2020 draft, but that was rescheduled for this year because of the pandemic.

Then Kansas City was awarded 2023.

But the Lions remained dogged in their pursuit of the draft, which has become the second-biggest event on the NFL schedule, trailing only the Super Bowl itself. And knowing they probably would not land another Super Bowl without building another stadium, Detroit continued its push undeterred.

“I think it’s unlikely — I’ll never say never — that we’ll have another chance for a Super Bowl,” team president Rod Wood said. “But the draft has become maybe the next-biggest event that the league puts on, and so once the draft started moving around and was so successful in other markets, it became something that we really focused on. So, happy that it’s finally happened, and hopefully we’ll put on a good enough show that maybe they will consider us for a Super Bowl again.”

Campus Martius was the centerpiece of the successful pitch and will host the draft stage with commissioner Roger Goodell. But the Lions envision hundreds of thousands of fans flooding the streets of downtown, with spillover into Hart Plaza along the river, and all the way over to the arena district. They intend to host musical events at several venues strewn throughout the city, and perhaps even Little Caesers Arena up in Midtown. Fireworks will be launched from the Detroit River, a celebration of America’s Game just yards from Canada.

“Very excited about showing off the city for millions of reasons,” Ford Hamp said. “It’s been a city that’s sometimes overlooked or disparaged for certain reasons, but we all know better, those of us that are there. All the wonderful things that are happening there. So we’re very excited to show the world what we’re all about.”

Since the draft left New York, hundreds of thousands of fans have flocked to the event in cities like Cleveland, Nashville, Philadelphia and Dallas. If such a crowd turns out in Detroit — and given how much this game runs through the heart of this city, there’s no reason to think it won’t — it could go down as one of the biggest events in the history of the city.

“We are thrilled the NFL has selected Detroit to host its 2024 draft from among a number of other great candidate cities,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. “Detroit is one of America’s great sports towns with some of the most dedicated and passionate football fans you’ll find anywhere. Holding the draft here will be a perfect opportunity for visitors to experience that energy, along with the world-class entertainment, cultural attractions and international riverfront our city has to offer.”

The Lions had a lot of political support for their successful pitch, from the mayor’s office as well as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Bringing the 2024 NFL draft to Detroit is a huge win for Detroiters and football fans across the state of Michigan,” Whitmer said in a statement. “It will inject energy into our economy, benefitting countless small businesses and working families in Southeast Michigan. The NFL’s selection is a testament to the Motor City’s hustle and spirit, and I’m so proud that yet another major company has decided to make a historic investment in Michigan since Lieutenant Governor (Garlin) Gilchrist and I took office. I am grateful to all the local leaders, community organizations, and business owners who continue to get things done in Detroit. Together, we will continue landing marquee projects and events as we stay focused on growing our economy to help every working family, small business, and community thrive.”

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