Updated May 8, 2022 - 7:47 am
Kathy Nelson isn’t worried about following Las Vegas as the next host of the NFL draft.
The way she looks at it, every city that hosts the draft has its own unique flavor so there’s no pressure to try to turn America’s heartland into a sea of neon.
The former producer, reporter and editor for television stations in Kansas City, Missouri, has served since 2010 as president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, which will host the NFL’s 2023 event.
She also heads the Women’s Intersport Network for Kansas City, known as WIN for KC.
Nelson said that initially she was a little concerned about her city taking on the host role after Las Vegas, but she took to heart something NFL leaders told her.
“They said the NFL draft is a chameleon,” she recalled in an interview last week. “It takes on the flavor, the energy, and the passion of each city, and the feel of that city. So, you’re not following Vegas. You’ll be uniquely Kansas City.”
While she was impressed with Las Vegas as a host, she knows next year’s event will have a completely different vibe.
The NFL is on board with that.
Raising the bar
“The bar continues to be raised by our draft host cities,” said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the league. “Las Vegas put on an incredible show for our fans, partners, prospects and media. We will celebrate the success of the Las Vegas draft for a couple minutes and then turn our attention to K.C.”
Nelson has visited all the recent draft cities during their events for insights on how to provide the best experience for attendees. As an athlete herself — she played basketball and volleyball and baseball on her brother’s team because there were no softball leagues available to her — she said she’s in tune with what she thinks the draft selectees will like.
Asked what impressed her most about the Las Vegas draft, Nelson noted that collectively several things worked well for the city.
“I don’t know that I could put my finger on just one thing, but there certainly are things that we’ve noticed, like all of the beautiful neon signs down the Strip. We don’t have that, but that experience for fans was really cool. So, what can we do as a city to make something cool like that happen that’s above and beyond what the NFL’s bringing? That’s our challenge.”
She was impressed with the area around Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, the center of much of the three-day event’s activity.
“I think the footprint is spectacular, just fantastic,” she said. “And I heard that again from the NFL this morning the importance of being in one location, even though the red carpet (the floating stage on the lake in front of the Bellagio) is around the corner. Just having that fan engagement, that NFL Draft Experience, being connected to the draft stage, that seems to be a really important piece, and I think it worked well here,” she said.
“You can tell Vegas is used to hosting big things and they know how to move people, so ingress and egress are important. Security is another thing we’re all focused on. Two officers from our police department are here with us this week and they’ve been meeting with the Las Vegas (Metropolitan) Police Department on security and understanding from them what it takes to make all this happen.”
She took “a ton of pictures” to take back to her team in Kansas City and attended a brunch hosted by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for future draft hosts.
The LVCVA’s Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications, said representatives of draft host cities routinely get together at the NFL’s suggestion so that they can learn from each other and make each year’s event better.
A former resident of Southfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Nelson-Kraft said she particularly hopes to work with her counterparts from Detroit, hosts of the 2024 NFL draft, to share information.
“We can all learn from each other and since we have been a host we like to help those from other cities,” she said. “We’re friendly competitors, but we want to do what’s best for fans.”
What comes to mind for most people when they think about Kansas City is barbecue, so that will probably fit the hosts in their role, Nelson said.
“We’re so well known for barbecue, I can guarantee you when you’re in town you’ll get to sample and smell any kind of barbecue that you can get your hands on,” she said. “We’re also just that Midwest hospitality. We always say we’re a little bit rowdy, we’re a whole lot of fun and we’re super Midwest nice.”
Because Kansas City is located near several military bases, she expects the city’s draft will pay some tribute to the military community.
As for celebrities, Kansas City is home to some favorite-son actors.
“We’ve got Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Eric Stonestreet,” she said. “I’m pretty sure they’ll want to play a role in this somehow, some way.”
Nelson said when Kansas City takes the official handoff from Las Vegas, more details will fall into place for the exact location. There are no plans to try to replicate the Bellagio fountains, even though Kansas City has the nickname the “City of Fountains,” thanks to the waterworks at Kauffman Stadium, commissioned by original Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Kauffman, the largest privately funded fountains in the world.
Right now, Nelson is anticipating the use of a 40-plus-acre grass area between Kansas City’s Union Station and the National World War I Memorial and Museum. It’s right next to the campus of Hallmark’s Crown Center, the corporate headquarters of Hallmark Cards Inc.
Nelson is impressed that the NFL has kept features of the draft free for fans to attend, “so if people come to Kansas City, it will be free for you there as well.”
With the Las Vegas draft in the rearview mirror, Kansas City is next up.
“K.C. is now on the clock,” the NFL’s McCarthy said. “We know our partners there benefited tremendously from their time in Las Vegas. They will work closely with us and the Chiefs to further develop and refine plans to provide a uniquely Kansas City experience next year.”