List of cities to host event in 2019 or 2020 includes Denver, Kansas City, Nashville and Las Vegas.
CANTON When David Baker walked into the National Football League's offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan on Thursday, he was greeted by Tod Lieweke, the NFL's chief operating officer, and Tracy Perlman, who runs the league's Legends Community. They wanted to try on the coat the 6-foot-9, 400-pound Baker was wearing.
He would have given them the shirt off his back for what he was about to find out.
Before Baker went into a meeting to discuss the NFL's centennial celebration in 2020, Lieweke informed him Canton-Cleveland was one of five cities that made the cut to host the 2019 or 2020 NFL Draft. Last year's draft in Philadelphia produced a $95 million economic impact on the city, according to a report Temple University’s Sport Industry Research Center conducted.
"I feel good about the opportunity in front of us either for the 2019 or 2020 NFL Draft, but I also feel behind that there's an opportunity to make the centennial celebration really great, and there's only one place you can have that. We're talking about the greatest day in the history of the game."
The NFL was established in downtown Canton on Sept. 17, 1920 in Ralph Hay's Hupmobile dealership. The NFL will celebrate its 100th season in 2019 and its centennial in 2020. Perhaps in a perfect world, Canton-Cleveland would host the 2019 draft to kick off the 2019 season and bookend that with the 2020 centennial, which Baker previously has said could include a regular-season NFL game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
"I would take the 2019 or 2020 draft," Baker said. "There is a part of me that believes the later we can have, the more we will have built of Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village to accommodate this. I look at this almost like the Olympics. One of the cool things about the Olympics is the host city has a lot of cool facilities it can use for many years to come."
The other four cities in contention boast current or future NFL franchises: Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Nashville. The Raiders will play in Las Vegas in 2020.
"You're grateful for becoming one of the five finalists. You hope and pray you are the awarded community," Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dennis Saunier said Thursday. "What this also illustrates is we've come a long way in five or 10 years. I don't think a bid would have been considered — let alone a top-five finalist. We've come a long way in many areas, but Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village is a major reason why this bid is so strong (along with) the redevelopment of Cleveland.
"I'm not going to celebrate until we are the chosen community, and then we'll put on a show like they've never seen before."
The NFL is expected to announce host cities for the 2019 and 2020 drafts during its annual Spring League Meeting in Atlanta, May 21-23. Before then, Baker said, the NFL would conduct a site visit of Cleveland and Canton.
From 1965 to 2014 New York City hosted the draft. Chicago hosted in 2015 and 2016, and Philadelphia held the 2017 draft. Dallas has been selected to host this year.
"I think there is pride in the fact Canton is the only city that doesn't have an NFL team that would ever be considered for the draft. The fact that we're in the last five means we're being taken very seriously," Baker said. "To use football terms: We're in the red zone; now we have to get across the goal line."
For the first time, Baker revealed some details about what a draft schedule could look like in Cleveland and Canton. Of course, details are fluid and subject to change should the league opt for the Canton-Cleveland bid.
Potentially, Baker said, draft week would start in Canton with a dinner with Hall of Famers involved. The first round of the draft would be hosted in Cleveland on Thursday. Rounds 2 and 3 would be in Cleveland on Friday, and rounds 4-7 on Saturday could be in Canton, along with a fan festival.
"Those are some of the things we proposed," Baker said. "We talked about those ideas. In the end, it will be (the NFL) saying, 'We like this and we'll do this.' What we bring in Canton is 100 years of history, and we're the guardians of the game's history. We are serious candidates, and our partners — the Cleveland Browns and (owners) Dee and Jimmy Haslam — have been wonderful partners."
The Hall of Fame, Cleveland Browns, Visit Canton and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission worked together to submit the bid, and Baker was complimentary of all partners.
"Since even before the establishment of the NFL nearly 100 years ago and the legacies of household names like Jim Brown, Paul Brown, Otto Graham and Lou Groza, Northeast Ohio has been rooted in football and NFL history and has been dedicated to developing the sport we love at all levels of competition," Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement.
"Being selected as one of five finalists ... is a great testament to our fans and the immense passion for football in Northeast Ohio. Dee, Jimmy and our entire team are excited to move forward in the bid process with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, and hopefully, create another great opportunity to showcase our region throughout the NFL and the country," Browns Executive Vice President and CFO Dave Jenkins said in a statement.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on several occasions has said the Cleveland-Canton bid has a good shot at getting a draft, but his assurances seem to hinge on completion of Hall of Fame Village: "The reality is with better facilities, the obvious answer to that one is yes," he told The Canton Repository in 2014, when plans for the Village first took shape.
Goodell has told the Repository the Hall of Fame and Canton would play significant roles in the league's centennial celebration.
"The Super Bowl happens every year. The NFL Draft happens every year," Baker said. "The centennial happens every other lifetime, and we have a good chance to be involved in both (the draft and centennial).
"For us, a big part of this is the 100th season and the centennial celebration. These guys (NFL draft picks) are getting their start where every NFL player wants to end: in Canton, Ohio."
Reach Todd at 330-580-8340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @toddporter