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Against all odds, Nashville convinced the NFL Draft to call it home. Could Cincinnati do the same?

Posted: 10:43 PM, Apr 24, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-25 00:50:07-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The quest Butch Spyridon began in 2011 was as optimistic as it was impossible: Convince the NFL Draft, traditionally held in New York City, Chicago or Philadelphia, to abandon those cities and come to one less than half their size. Nashville, where he was president of the convention and visitors corporation, would be perfect.

“If they could have thrown me out of their high-rise in Manhattan, they would have,” he said Wednesday. “(But) we stayed after it. Once a year from 2011 to today, we were in their face.”

And it worked. The NFL Draft will be held in Nashville for the first time Thursday, attracting an estimated 300,000 people to the city’s downtown and $75 million to its economy. Spyridon estimated it could be the largest event the state of Tennessee had ever hosted.

“I’m mostly speechless when I walk out here and look at the end result,” he said.

Earning that event took more than his persistence, he added. Other overlooked cities that hope to replicate Nashville’s success — like, say, Cincinnati — will need to imitate it in the most difficult way of all: Don’t imitate it. Spyridon believes Nashville’s distinct personality, atmosphere and history contributed to the NFL’s decision as much as its existing tourism infrastructure and proven event-hosting chops.

“Find your unique calling card and be intentionally persistent,” he advised. “It’s there for the taking. It’s not easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s fun, and the payoff is huge if you do it right.”

Cincinnati is about half the size of Nashville, meaning it would likely be an even harder sell for the league. It might take twice as much time to convince NFL officials Skyline Chili could be as much an attraction as New York City pizza.

But hey — in 2035, who knows?