INDIANAPOLIS – The reward for staging one of the NFL’s showcase events at a high level is watching the league taking it on the road.
“It’s one of the unfortunate consequences of success,’’ Jeff Foster said Tuesday afternoon.
As president of locally-based National Football Scouting Inc., Foster has overseen the operation and evolution of the NFL Scouting Combine, which has called Indy home since 1987 with the exception of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic-altered event.
That permanent home no longer exists.
The NFL Combine is back in town next February, then faces a future of rotational cities. All 32 teams will be given the opportunity to bid on hosting the event. Indianapolis, Dallas and Los Angeles have done so for the 2023 event, according to NFL Network.
“The event has been very successful in Indianapolis, maybe to a fault,’’ Foster said with a chuckle. “The event has grown and been so successful that the NFL now feels like it’s an asset that can be moved. That’s a credit to Indy, all of our incredible partners, to my staff, to the people before me, my predecessor, Duke Babb.”
“It’s probably important to note the Combine isn’t moving because Indy did anything wrong. It’s actually the reverse. Indy did it so well that it grew this event into a tent-pole event for the NFL. Like the Super Bowl and the draft, the league believes it needs to be moved around.’’
The Combine’s basic purpose is to provide the league’s general managers, coaches and scouting and medical staffs a convenient opportunity and location to evaluate the prospects eligible for the upcoming draft. There are psychological tests, a battery of medical exams, interviews with teams and the on-field positional workouts.
The next wave of draft-eligible players will start flowing into town Feb. 27 with medicals beginning March 3 and the four days of workouts starting March 3.
But the Combine has grown from a player-assessment event into one of the more popular events on the NFL calendar, including allowing fans to view the workouts.
“Fan interaction in various NFL markets is the No. 1 goal for any of these tent-pole events,’’ Foster said.
Along with attracting approximately 330 players to town, the Combine lures more than 2,000 team employees and 1,300 members of the media. Visit Indy routinely projects the Combine has an economic impact of more than $8 million.
The decision to move he Combine from city-to-city in the future was made at the NFL level.
It’s doubtful it will be popular among GMs.
“It would be foolish for us to move it from Indy,’’ Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard said during the 2019 Combine. “The work that Jeff Foster does to get this organized and what the city is able to provide . . . just getting the medical done, just from a logistic standpoint is critical for us to be able to do our jobs.
“I get the whole marketing aspect of it. I think we’re good with that. But I also don’t think we can lose sight of football. It’s important we get this process right. I’d be hard-pressed to find another city that could do it like Indy.’’
Added Los Angeles Chargers GM Tom Telesco: “I know for us the proximity of everything that’s here – the stadium, the hotels and all of the medical process on the back side of it – that’s really important. Everything runs really well here.
“Will they move it someday? I don’t know. But I know that . . . it’s run really well here.’’
The NFL Draft was held in New York from 1965-2014 before league officials decided to share it with the rest of the country. Chicago hosted the event in 2015-16 followed by Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville. The 2020 Draft scheduled for Las Vegas was shifted to a remote event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then moved to Cleveland in April.
“They’ve had success moving the draft from city-to-city and I think the Combine was next in line,’’ Foster said. “So here we go.”
“Since we have known this was coming for some time, we’ve tried to prepare as best we could for a move.’’
Foster is urging the NFL to determine the location for the 2023 Combine as much before the ’22 event as possible to allow his staff to adequately prepare for the new site. That ideally would include having a leadership committee from the hosting city to attend the Combine in February to get a clearer picture of what it’s taking on.
Foster also hopes the rotational format includes each city hosting the event for two or three years at a time to allow for any issues to be worked out.
“Until you go through it one time,’’ he said, “you just don’t know where all the hidden challenges will pop up.
“The first year will be a challenge. Hopefully by the second year you have resolved most of those challenges.’’
When asked for a statement about the NFL Combine’s future, we received this from Visit Indy:
“The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine marks 35 years of Indy hosting and we feel strongly there’s no better city in the nation to pull off the complexity of this unique event,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice president with Visit Indy. “We are proud Indy is advancing down the field and remain optimistic the NFL will continue to entrust the city with this prestigious event.”
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.