N.F.L. Draft Is Like Super Bowl for City of Detroit

When the N.F.L. took its college draft on the road a decade ago, its first stops were Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas, three of the league’s biggest markets.

The concept was an instant hit, turning a show cloistered for a half century in hotels and theaters in Manhattan into a free, three-day football festival that drew hundreds of thousands of fans, many driving long distances to attend.

Soon, more than a dozen cities were raising their hands to host the event. Unlike the N.F.L.’s marquee event, the Super Bowl, the draft does not require extensive public subsidies, hotels and security. It is also held in late April, when weather is less of a concern, even in cities with harsh winters. This allowed the N.F.L. in recent years to award the draft to Cleveland, Kansas City, Mo., and other cities that have never, and may never, host a Super Bowl.

Detroit hosted the Super Bowl in 2006, as a reward to the Lions for moving into a new stadium. But city officials expect that being the site of this year’s draft, which begins on Thursday, will provide an economic jolt, though how much of one is unclear. They also hope the three days of exposure on television showcases the city to fans who might not otherwise visit. Detroit, they say, is not the Detroit of a decade ago, when the city was bankrupt, tens of thousands of homes had been abandoned and the automobile industry was pulling out of a long slump. Since then, new hotels, businesses and residents have flooded downtown; unemployment has fallen; and the city’s debt has returned to investment grade.

“We have a chance to reintroduce ourselves to America,” Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan, said in an interview. “The last time this country paid any attention to us was 10 years ago when we were in bankruptcy. We haven’t had anything of this magnitude in a long time. We’re just looking to greet America and give our visitors a good experience.”

City residents see signs of the draft everywhere, including on public transit.Credit…Nic Antaya for The New York Times

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