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This article originally was published in July 2016. It has been updated to include current information and figures.
During the Packers’ annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field last year, team president Mark Murphy made some waves by revealing that Green Bay had applied to host the NFL Draft in 2019, 2020 or 2021.
"We think it’d be great for the league to have the draft here and celebrate the smallest market in the NFL," Murphy said at the time.
After 50 consecutive years in New York City, the 2015 and 2016 drafts were held in Chicago. According to local media outlets, the 2015 event attracted an estimated total of 200,000 visitors to the Windy City, while the 2016 iteration had an attendance of 225,000 over the course of its three days. Earlier this spring, Philadelphia hosted the 2017 NFL Draft outdoors, drawing a record 250,000 people.
Next year's event will be held at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium. The league has yet to announce any locations for subsequent drafts, though nearly half the NFL’s cities have reportedly expressed future interest, with several – including Green Bay, Kansas City, Denver and Atlanta – assembling formal bids.
In their application, the Packers touted the franchise’s rich history and the new Titletown District west of Lambeau Field, part of which was completed before this season. In 2016, Murphy addressed the primary, obvious impediment to Green Bay – Wisconsin’s third-largest city and the country's smallest major-league sports market – hosting such a big event: lack of accommodations infrastructure.
"It depends on what the priority is for the league," he said. "If it’s just to generate revenue and room nights, we might be at a disadvantage."
How much of a disadvantage, though, and can it be overcome?
According to the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, the area currently has approximately 4,300 hotel rooms. An additional 300 rooms came into existence with the openings in 2017 of Hotel Northland and Lodge Kohler, the latter of which is in Titletown, bringing the total to 4,600. Those numbers are only for Brown County.
Brenda Krainik, the Bureau’s director of marketing, said research on travel-party composition indicates an average of two people stay in a Green Bay hotel room. However, she said, that figure includes day-trippers and it’s not particular to Packers games or events, for which there are no specific calculations. "My gut tells me there might be more than two in a room (for Packers-related events)," she said.
Lambeau Field has a capacity of 80,000. Of course, many fans are local or live close enough to Green Bay that they don’t stay overnight for games. But local tourism officials say home games regularly result in all hotels in the area – Brown County, Manitowoc County and around the Fox Cities – being fully occupied.
While the draft itself – and its attendance – is confined to whatever venue is housing it each night, auxiliary attractions surrounding the actual selection bring in thousands more people. In Chicago, Draft Town anchored a huge fan festival that was sprawled across Grant Park downtown.
Krainik said in 2016 that she didn't believe Green Bay had ever hosted an event with 200,000 attendees. But she pointed to the Lambeau Field College Classic football game, played last year between the Wisconsin Badgers and LSU Tigers, as a situation where virtually all of the 80,000 fans in attendance at Lambeau Field were not local. She said almost every hotel room in northeastern Wisconsin was reserved, with many fans arriving in advance of the Saturday game. That event was largely regarded a success, and it could be viewed as a positive litmus test for something like the NFL Draft.
During Packers games, the Fox Cities and Manitowoc-Two Rivers areas routinely get overflow guests, their visitors bureaus said. The Fox Cities have approximately 3,100 rooms, while Manitowoc offers another 1,000 rooms. Greater Milwaukee, which is two hours south of Green Bay, has around 18,000 hotel rooms.
The multiple-day nature of the draft makes for nebulous numbers and inexact calculations on overnight visitors. Certainly, not all of the 200,000-250,000 people counted for Chicago's and Philadelphia's draft events stayed in hotels. Still, it would be hard for eastern Wisconsin to approach being able to accommodate even half the total attendees our big-brother rival in Illinois had during each of its 2015 and 2016 events.
According to Crain’s, a weekly business newspaper in Chicago, that city has approximately 42,000 hotel rooms in its downtown alone.
Counting 18,000 rooms in Greater Milwaukee, 8,700 combined in Brown County, Manitowoc County and the Fox Cities, and a few thousand more in surrounding Sheboygan, Kewaunee, Door County and northeastern Wisconsin, one could generously round up the total number of rooms to 30,000. That’s well short of what Chicago has – and Philadelphia, Denver and Atlanta, too, according to hotel industry data company Smith Travel Research – and even putting an average of three people in each room would only lodge about 90,000.
As Murphy said Thursday, "It’ll be a tough one for us to get the draft here."
But Lisa Marshall, the communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, said Green Bay just being considered is a big deal.
"The economic impact for that whole area, that would be huge," she said last year. "To have that kind of media focus is really important for us, for our state. Frankly, it would be positive all the way around."
Krainik said the Green Bay visitors bureau was aware the Packers were interested in hosting the draft and was excited at the prospect of accommodating the event.
"Anytime you have the opportunity to reach a national audience and feature your destination, you take it," she said in 2016. "Obviously, this decision isn’t up to us. But we work closely with the Packers on many events. If this event were awarded to Green Bay, we would be thrilled to activate our hospitality community and create a memorable Green Bay experience for the visitors."
Marshall said she had no doubts the area could support the draft and was confident the Packers wouldn’t have put the idea out there without knowing whether the event could be adequately accommodated.
"You can’t pay for that kind of exposure and national attention," she said. "I hope we get picked."
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.