NFL Combine staying in Indy thru 2021, and perhaps beyond

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The NFL Scouting Combine is staying put for at least the next two years.

After that? We’ll see.

According to the NFL, the Combine, which has called Indy home for more than three decades, will remain in town through 2021. After that, there will be an evaluation of “extending the partnership . . . with a series of annual options beyond that,’’ said Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications.

City officials were breathing easier following the decision.

“There are multiple cities that are viciously trying to wrestle the Combine away from Indianapolis,’’ admitted Chris Gahl, senior vice-president of marketing and communications with Visit Indy. “We view it as a big win today.

“Since first hosting the Combine in 1987, it’s just paramount we keep them here. We’ll take another year and say ‘Thank you.’ We’ll be hungry and happy to continue to prove ourselves.’’

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the Combine was locked in to Indy only through 2020. The decision added ’21, and made provisions for extending the relationship longer.

Visit Indy estimates the week-long Combine attracts more than 5,000 individuals to town – athletes, owners/GMs, scouts, fans – and generates approximately $8.4 million in revenue.

It’s believed league officials have given serious consideration to moving the Combine to the West Coast and settling into the $6 billion complex in Inglewood, Calif. that opens in 2020 and will host the Rams and Chargers.

“There is a lot of interest around the event and a lot of interest in cities hosting an NFL event,’’ said Jeff Foster, president of the locally-based National Football Scouting, which operates the Combine. “Moving the draft around has been so successful, it’s just natural we’re getting more pressure from the Combine side to make it mobile as well.

“Selfishly, we want it to remain here in Indy.’’

While the Combine isn’t going anywhere for at least the next two years, Foster faces significant adjustments to his schedule as the NFL looks to maximize the event’s increasing popularity and marketability.

Next February, many on-field drills that have been held in the morning and afternoon will be shifted to the afternoon and primetime.

“We are always looking at ways of bringing more football to a wider audience,’’ McCarthy said, adding broadcasting drills in primetime “will enable us to accomplish the goal of reaching more fans while still fully maintaining the football integrity of the event.’’

Foster has been receptive to balancing increased TV requests while not disrupting the overriding purpose of the Combine. And that’s having NFL general managers, head coaches, assistant coaches and scouts evaluate more than 300 draft-eligible players.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ Foster said.

The city’s strong push to retain the Combine was bolstered on two fronts.

First, Gahl stressed Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard lobbied hard for the event to stay put.

“Their support without question helped keep the Combine in Indianapolis,’’ he said.

When the Combine returned in late February, Ballard was one of many staunch advocates of it remaining in Indy. He insisted “it would be foolish’’ to move it elsewhere.

“I get the whole marketing aspect of it. I think we’re all good with that,’’ he said. “But also I 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.’’

Second, and perhaps more important, the NFL took notice of the planned expansion of the Indiana Convention Center and addition of downtown hotels. League officials want to make certain Indy grows along with the Combine.

“Part of the equation is: Are we moving the ball forward in growing the city?’’ Gahl said. “(The NFL) said in no uncertain terms the Convention Center expansion and new hotels were critically important to keeping their event (here) and growing their event.

“We know they’ll keep a watchful eye year-in and year-out as we’re putting more hotel rooms online.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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