Making the case to keep the NFL scouting combine where it is … in Indianapolis

Clark Judge

(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access this interview, fast-forward to 1:06 of the attachment above)

The NFL is committed to keeping its annual scouting combine in Indianapolis through 2020. But then what?

Well, then anything is possible.

There are rumors that the league is ready to move it … much as it has the annual draft … with Dallas and L.A. the most likely spots. But that doesn’t mean Indianapolis is out of the mix … because it’s not. And for good reason: The city has hosted it since 1987, is ideally located and has a proven record of accommodating players, coaches, teams and media.

“It’s an important event to us,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Indy, “and one we’re proud to have hosted for such a long time.”

It’s an important event to the league, too, which is why it could shop it.

Let’s face it: The NFL discovered the value of putting the draft on the road, with the size of last month’s crowds in Nashville not lost on its marketing division. So it may be ready to test the waters with an event that once wasn’t so public, with organizers discouraging media from attending.

But that was then, and this is now. And now all that has changed, with the combine televised, fans invited to attend and nearly 1,000 media members accredited.

And that’s good for everyone, including the merchants of Indianapolis. But it doesn’t mean the site must change, too. In fact, Gahl makes a strong case for keeping it where it is.

“When you look at the setup,” he said, “we have more hotel rooms connected via climate-controlled skyways into our convention center and into Lucas Oil stadium. When the stadium was built, it was with NCAA men’s basketball in mind, and Colts’ football in mind … but also the combine.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but there are 12 meeting rooms and two exhibit halls that were designed specifically to recreate the medical testing grounds that the NFL needs to poke and prod its players, do MRIs and conduct other psychological examinations. That space was carved out and designed specifically for the combine.

“There was fiber-optic cable laid during construction from Lucas Oil stadium to our health provider, IU Health, so that MRIs can be read in real time and sent back to doctors on the ground in the stadium. So we were very thoughtful in putting together the pieces of the puzzle that is Indianapolis and the package that the NFL has enjoyed.”

Essentially, it’s a reaffirmation of what Colts’ GM Chris Ballard said when asked about the possibility of the combine moving. Acknowledging that marketing could play a factor, he made it clear to reporters why NFL teams like having it where it is.

“We can’t lose sight of football,” he said.

Tell that to the NFL.

It’s been in negotiations with Indianapolis the past 18 months, with the city hoping to extend its contract three to five years beyond 2020. And while Gahl said Indianapolis is “hopefully optimistic” that it will hear good news within a month, he’s also a realist. So he knows the threat of losing the event to another location is possible.

“The reason that the NFL scouting combine exists is to put players through a rigorous amount of testing -- psychological, physical, mental,” he said, making a pitch to keep it in Indianapolis. “And when you look at the setup of our city, as it relates to flying in more than 300 players and getting them in and out of testing seamlessly and back home safely, the walkability and connectivity of Indianapolis is second to none.

“At the heart of this and what we continue to talk to the NFL about is: Don’t lose sight of why the event exists, the benefit to coaches and the teams and that this is really pulling off and executing an event seamlessly. We can add public pieces to it and fan experiences to it as you wish to grow, but at the end of the day this is about getting players through -- and that’s what teams need.

“We’ve safeguarded that event for all these years and other cities and team owners are really hungry to take it away. Hopefully, we’ll hear in the next month we’re successful in keeping it for a few more years.”

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