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As the saying goes: “Everything is bigger in Texas.”
The 2018 NFL Draft was no exception.
The city of Arlington and the Dallas Cowboys hosted the annual event this year, serving up the NFL Draft on (literally) its biggest stage ever: AT&T Stadium. For the first time in 83 years, the draft was held in an NFL stadium, and it brought record number in attendance and television viewership, all while giving the league huge media exposure during the doldrums of the football offseason.
Here’s a look at why the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington was such a success.
Given that the Draft’s move to Philadelphia was such a win for the NFL, it was only natural that Jerry Jones jumped at the chance to one-up his NFC East division rivals with a Texas-sized event. Philly set records with 250,000 people attending the Draft, but the city of Arlington smashed that with estimates of 400,000 attendees over three days. Between the fan experience outside the stadium, the actual NFL Draft inside of AT&T Stadium, and the intrigue of having potentially five quarterbacks drafted in the first round, the 2018 Draft was a must-see for football fans.
The Draft has evolved from a few nights of staged announcements—and into a full-fledged fan attraction. The Cowboys hosted events for fans at their “Star” world headquarters in Frisco, which includes an open-air field fans can play on, numerous restaurants, and Cowboys Fit, a luxury gym fans can join. The gym has state-of-the-art equipment that’s similar to what the Cowboys players use, as well as classes, a recovery center, and areas to do bodyweight work and strength training.
“The Star in Frisco” is a really incredible complex, spanning 91 acres and it has an entertainment district with stores, restaurants, and shops, as well as well as the 12,000-set Ford Center, which is used as a practice facility as well as for the Frisco ISD football teams. Tours are available for fans and includes looks at the Star Headquarters, the Ford Center, Super Bowl memorabilia, and the Cowboys’ draft War Room. Certain parts of The Star are available for private events and entertainment, and the HQ also includes the Cowboys Club, a private social club and restaurant. The club offers a wide range of amenities, great spaces, food, drinks, and more, including the Quarterback Corner, which has a bar and lounge area with a view directly into the Ford Center.
The fan experience at AT&T Stadium spanned the size of 25 football fields and included interactive games, NFL Combine drills for fans to try, virtual reality experiences, and free player autograph sessions. All in all, the fan experience set a Day 1-record with 100,000 fans—and those people didn’t even end up inside the stadium. With all these amenities, the Cowboys created the biggest version of the NFL Draft Fan Experience any draft had ever seen.
At AT&T Stadium, over 20 top prospects walked the red carpet, including eventual first round picks Saquon Barkley, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Bradley Chubb. The red carpet festivities included a high-kicking performance from the Cowboys cheerleading team, interviews with Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, and an appearance from Cowboys legend Darren Woodson, who signed autographs as waiters brought around plates of food and drinks to the fans who braved the lines to get through to the red carpet area. Many of the future NFL stars greeted fans, took selfies, and handed out autographs as they made their way down the carpet.
All seven rounds of the NFL Draft are important for building a Super Bowl team, but the first round inevitably draws the most production value. With top prospects, NFL legends, current NFL players, and at least 60,000 people in attendance, the excitement inside the stadium was just as great the fan enthusiasm outside. When Roger Goodell stepped out to open the first round, he was greeted by the traditional boos from fans, and the clock started ticking.
There was plenty of intrigue heading into draft night, and no one was quite sure what the Browns would do. But once the team picked Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield—who was not at the draft, opting to watch at home with family—things quickly fell into place. The Giants took ridiculously strong Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, while the Jets picked USC quarterback Sam Darnold, giving fans hope that he could be the next franchise savior on a team that desperately needs one. The Browns surprised fans again by taking Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, leaving the Denver Broncos to take NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb, who many scouts felt was the safest player in the draft apart from Barkley.
The crowd went wild when the hometown Cowboys were on the clock, and they eventually selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who they hope will turn into the second coming of Pro Bowler Sean Lee. By the end of the first round, five quarterbacks were selected, including Louisville star Lamar Jackson, but he had to sweat it out to the final pick when the Baltimore Ravens traded up with the Eagles to make the selection.
If the way the NFL Draft went is any indication, more big events will be coming to Arlington in the future. The Arlington area near AT&T Stadium has a whole range of different entertainment and event venues, including Globe Life Park in Arlington, the home stadium of the Texas Rangers, which can also host events apart from baseball games, Six Flags Over Texas, as well as the new stadium being built for the Rangers right next to their old venue. That area also is being developed into Texas Live!, which will have dining, entertainment, hotels, and event facilities. Everything in this area is a short drive away from each other, and there are plenty of hotels to stay at, including the Crowne Plaza Arlington. It makes the city of Arlington a very convenient location for events, conventions, and private functions. And let’s not forget about the food and drinks, too. There’s plenty of options around AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park, but there are also some local spots to check out that are great, including Legal Draft, an Arlington microbrewery that has a bunch of different beers, all named after legal terms.
The estimated economic impact of the 2017 Draft in Philadelphia was nearly $95 million, and it likely will be even more for Arlington this year with the record attendance. What Arlington and the Cowboys did likely will be the blueprint for many cities and teams in the years to come as they try and get the draft to come to town.
The three-day spectacle set a new standard for the NFL Draft, and whoever gets it next in 2019 will have a tough act to follow.