Monday, June 17, 2024

Motown Magnified: 2024 NFL Draft shines a welcomed spotlight on Detroit

April 24, 2024
The NFL Draft Experience, the draft's ultimate fan festival site, will take place at Hart Plaza from Thursday, April 25, to Saturday, April 27. The NFL Draft will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, at One Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, Michigan.
The NFL Draft Experience, the draft's ultimate fan festival site, will take place at Hart Plaza from Thursday, April 25, to Saturday, April 27. The NFL Draft will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, at One Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

For Detroit residents and Lions fans, the 2024 NFL Draft has been a long time coming

It’s been over two years since the most popular sport in America announced its 2024 draft would take place in the Motor City. In that time span, the hometown Lions have risen from the ashes of a perennial bottom-feeder in the NFL to a formidable force in the league. Detroit’s 2023 run to the NFC Championship placed it on a national stage, a position it hadn’t graced since its infamous winless season in 2008 – when the Lions were popular for all the wrong reasons. 

The last nine months have changed a great deal of narratives surrounding the Lions and the city of Detroit. In the playoffs this past January, national broadcast shots panning the fabric of Detroit were a beloved sight to many. The Lions fandom showed its true colors all season, instantly showing out to Ford Field in record numbers from the first signs of a competitive football team.

Motown has reclaimed its position in the national sports eye. With the 2024 NFL Draft set to begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday at One Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, the city is on the clock once again. 

Although the NFL Draft experience – the week’s ultimate fan festival – isn’t operational until Thursday, Detroit resident Chris Haider joined many others outside Hart Plaza with his daughter Wednesday afternoon to take a gander. Donning a “One Pride” Lions fleece, Haider said he’s been awaiting this week for well over a year.

“I wasn’t nearly as excited for this when I bought these tickets and scheduled this weekend as I am now,” Haider, a Clawson, Michigan native and Grosse Pointe resident of almost 20 years said. “I’ve lived here for basically my entire life and never seen this much of a spotlight. (It) probably helps the team is good, but trust me, we’re enjoying this.” 

When it comes to the event scale of amateur drafts, the NFL blows all major professional sports organizations out of the water. The NBA draft is a two-round, one-day event. MLB and the NHL drafts largely feature younger, more raw talent. The NFL Draft is one-of-a-kind in its festivities, fan attraction and overall implications. Each year, it’s where the next decade of billion-dollar franchises are decided.

So, wherever the three-day, seven-round event goes year after year, a full-blown party goes with it. 

“Oh, it’s been crazy,” Marquita Rowen said, who doesn’t watch football but works as a server four days a week in downtown Detroit. “No parking, people everywhere. It’s been fun, though, because I know everyone’s leaving soon and it’s kind of a tourist thing. It can get stressful, but we like showing off where we live whenever we get the chance.” 

The draft itself, which will take place during the evenings from Thursday through Saturday, is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people to Detroit. As a result, road closures are prevalent in areas surrounding the draft campus: Jefferson Avenue is closed from Randolph Street to Washington Boulevard; Woodward Avenue is blocked off from Fisher Freeway to Larned Street. For non-Detroit natives, that’s a sizeable chunk of the downtown area. Detroit Police Department squad cars and security vehicles roam the premises. 

Hosting the NFL draft is a massive-scale tourist opportunity, and the city is treating it as such.

“(Detroit is) taking this super seriously, based on the amount of emails and letters I’ve gotten in the mail about random things,” Haider said. “I get the sense they’re trying to capitalize on this attention because this type of thing doesn’t come around here often.”

The Hart Plaza, home of the NFL Draft Experience, sits along the Detroit River adjacent to Huntington Place. On Wednesday afternoon, the festival awaits full operation, but the excitement and scenery have already arrived. It’s a spot Brooke Haider, Chris’s daughter, is familiar with, but was extra special on the eve of the draft. 

She took close notice of her surroundings: a sun-drenched afternoon aura filled with new people and anticipation. American flags swayed gently, framing the Detroit River with the shores of Windsor, Canada clearly visible. 

“This is what I want everybody to see about Detroit,” Brooke Haider said, pointing out to the river and skyline. “It gets so overlooked in my opinion. Part of the reason me and my dad are so excited is because people are coming from all over to visit our city. Maybe people can finally start seeing the beauty here."

Chris Haider and Brooke Haider both agree that picking late is better than the alternative, which has hardly been the case for the Lions throughout history. No first pick for Detroit has ever come later than No. 28.

It’s an interesting twist, with the draft in Detroit and the Lions without a top-20 pick for the first time since 2017. Since less successful teams secure higher draft positions, this is a positive development for Detroit and its fans. The Lions may have seized more of the world’s attention had they held onto a 17-point lead in the second half of the NFC Championship Game and secured a Super Bowl berth. Nonetheless, one thing is clear: they’ve already captured the hearts of Detroit fans. 

“That team was my world for a little while there,” Bryan Tice, a former Detroit resident who made the trip from Chandler, Arizona for the NFL Draft, said. “I personally enjoyed them proving everybody wrong the most out of all of it. And they’ll still count us out no matter what, but we support these guys like crazy.”

The stage is set for the NFL draft, and the countdown inches closer to its climax. As the sports world's eyes turn to Detroit, they’ll see a city welcoming the spotlight. Motown is ready to shine

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