By Kevin Collison
Next year may be the busiest in Kansas City sports history including up to 350,000 visitors coming downtown next spring for the 2023 NFL Draft, according to a top local sports official.
“Four weeks of collegiate basketball, then we roll into our first ever Sports ETA convention, our national association of sports commissions,” said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the KC Sports Commission.
“A week later, the NFL draft. It’ll be hopping.”
Nelson told the Downtown Council board last week the exact dates for NFL Draft event remain unclear because of television scheduling, but it would definitely be either the last weekend in April or the first weekend in May.
It comes on the heels of a March that will feature the Big 12 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, the NCAA Midwest Regional with the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 matchups, the NAIA Men’s tournament and the Sports Events & Tourism Association symposium.
Nelson, who also was recently appointed to a five-year position as head of Visit KC, the regional tourism and convention marketing agency, said she’s been briefing hotel owners about the magnitude of the NFL Draft.
“It is unbelievable, you think Super Bowl right? It’s crazy, it’s a quarter million people in the street,” she said. “The NFL has made this a massive fan engagement event.
“We’re helping hoteliers understand. To summarize, it’s the biggest thing that our market has experienced, the impact will be profound.
“It was eye-opening to our hoteliers to understand the impact this will have on their business and the hotel blocks that will be full.”
The sports executive said many of the NFL Draft attendees are expected to drive to Kansas City for the event, observing the city was within a day’s drive from 55 million people, with the remainder arriving at the new Kansas City airport terminal scheduled to open in early March 2023.
And if that’s not enough, Nelson said the city expects to hear back about its application to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup by the end of April or early May. She said the community submitted its final documents on Feb. 21.
“We do think we’ll have a feeling where we stand in the next few weeks,” she said. “We’re bidding against 21 other cities across North America.
“The ultimate goal is to be awarded matches, we could have between five and seven matches.”
If Kansas City were to be awarded World Cup matches, fan fest events are being envisioned for either in front of Union Station or the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Nelson said.
She added that if Kansas City misses out, there is a strong possibility it could still be a “base camp city” for one or more national teams competing in the World Cup.
“To be able to host matches is ultimate goal, if for some reason we’re not selected for that we could be a base camp city which means countries will select Kansas City to be live here and train here,” Nelson said.
“It doesn’t mean just the team, there are 10,000 plus fans coming to our city, she added. “The impact alone of being a base camp city is pretty significant.”
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