The NFL will join the illustrious list of marquee Las Vegas headliners when the league brings its annual draft celebration to the Strip April 23-25.
Beyond having the opportunity to witness your favorite team tap its next big superstar, the three-day event has plenty of other activities for football fanatics and for the pigskin averse.
But before making any travel plans, consider that in 2019, the draft in Nashville attracted a record 600,000 people who spent nearly $134 million, as the Tennessean reported.
If you’re not participating in draft festivities, you may want to reconsider your visit because crowds, traffic and hotel costs may be well outside the norm
Here’s our scouting report for what’s in store.
More than just a draft
Let’s start with the pros: Not only will the NFL Draft feature several events, but those events also will be open to the public and free. So if you lose all of your money at the casino, at least your weekend won’t be entirely ruined.
The main hub of activities will be east of the Strip, behind the Linq Hotel & Experience and the Flamingo. The primary action takes place on the NFL Draft Main Stage, which will be constructed alongside Caesars Forum, the state-of-the-art convention center scheduled to open in March.
There, fans can perform the traditional booing of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell while watching the draft unfold. The first round kicks off at 5 p.m. April 23. Rounds 2 and 3 will be selected April 24, and the final four rounds will be determined April 25. Each evening will be capped by a musical performance.
Adjacent to the main stage, the NFL Experience is the spot to grab autographs from players past and present, participate in an interactive 40-yard dash competition and check out the three Super Bowl Champion Lombardi trophies that the soon-to-be hometown Raiders won. (The complete event schedule, including concert headliners, so far remains under wraps.)
On the opposite side of Las Vegas Boulevard, interviews conducted on the Draft Red Carpet Stage will be floating atop the splashy Bellagio fountains. A red carpet gala is scheduled for Thursday just before the draft. Participants are to be ferried to the stage by a boat in a scene that can happen only in Las Vegas.
Early arrival is a must if you want to be close to the action. Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, thinks the number of visitors will exceed last year’s New Year’s Eve crowd of 333,000, but didn’t hazard a guess on how much bigger the crowds might be. Raiders owner Marc Davis thinks the crowd will surpass 750,000.
The central Strip location of the draft may be a dream for the NFL and fans staying in the area, but not so much for commuters. The stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between Planet Hollywood and the Flamingo will, for the most part, be closed during the three days of the draft, according to the LVCVA. (Overnight into the early morning will be the exception.)
Flamingo Road will be closed to vehicles from the Las Vegas Strip up to Koval Lane. “The entire walkway that’s between the Cromwell and Bally’s is going to be a place where fans can walk freely and not worry about vehicular traffic,” Brunelle said.
“One of the things we’re looking at is a park-and-ride situation where we have people who want to park at the [Las Vegas] Convention Center, hop on the monorail and take that directly to the space behind the Linq,” he said.
Public transportation may be your best bet if you’re arriving from Henderson as well as the northern and western parts of the valley. Although specifics are still being worked out, the RTC, the transit authority, will likely follow the routes used during Golden Knights hockey games when a parking lot behind Bally’s serves as a transportation hub, Brunelle said.
For those arriving at McCarran International Airport, the ride time to your hotel should be business as usual, Brunelle said.
The same can’t be said for the taxi lines. “As with any busy weekend, I would anticipate there’s probably going to be a little bit more wait for transportation just because of the sheer volume of people,” he said.
If you’re dead set on attending the draft, book your hotel stay soon. The city boasts 150,000 rooms, which may seem sufficient, but they frequently reach capacity — and that’s absent the NFL draft.
“Every room that we have, we expect to be filled,” says Chris Holdren, chief marketing officer for Caesars Entertainment, which operates nine casino resorts on the Strip including the Linq, Planet Hollywood and Bally’s.
Surge pricing is the norm for Las Vegas hotels during major events such as CES and Electric Daisy Carnival, and the NFL Draft will be no exception. A three-night stay at the Cosmopolitan added up to $1,850, excluding the $44 a night resort fee, and the Bellagio penciled out to $2,247 for three nights, according to figures from Hotels.com. There are lodgings for less, but it’s not a buyer’s market, either.
Not surprisingly, as you move farther away from the center of the Strip, prices become more palatable. One of the best deals for the weekend is courtesy of the Sahara, which is offering a draft day special that includes monorail passes, a 20% room discount and an upgrade to the Marra Tower. (A three-night stay averages $231 per night before taxes and fees.)
Typical of Las Vegas, attending this year’s NFL Draft is a roll of the dice, but there’s no denying the potential for a successful weekend.
“If you love football, there are a million and one reasons to come,” Holdren said. “If you aren’t a fan of football but just want to have a great experience, there are a million reasons to come.”