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Game on, Philly

A winning strategy: Larry Needle, executive director of PHL Sports, estimates that more than 200,000 fans will head to Philadelphia for the NFL Draft, with more than half being from out of town. That means full hotel rooms, restaurants and shops to what Needle estimated will equate to $80 million in total projected impact. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Score a look at the upcoming football festivities in the Northeast Times’ NFL Draft Visitors Guide.

By Kerith Gabriel

As hotel rooms fill, restaurants run out of reservations and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway becomes the epicenter of the sporting universe this week, Larry Needle will undoubtedly be at his Center City desk, sporting a massive grin, ear-to-ear.

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The architect of bringing the NFL Draft to Philadelphia, the league’s marquee event — second only to the Super Bowl — joins an extensive list of events Needle has aided in bringing to Philadelphia as executive director of PHL Sports. PHL Sports, formerly known as the Philadelphia Sports Congress, is the sports arm of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, led by its fearless leader in Needle for over 20 years.

“I still get a kick out of this,” Needle said during a phone interview with the Times. “Philadelphia is a phenomenal city, with a great pulse and a passion for sports like no other. That’s not my bias here, it’s just a fact. The best part about all of this is that we get a chance to show the world with events like NFL Draft that this is the place to come to showcase your event.”

In securing that the 2017 edition of the NFL Draft was coming to Philadelphia, Needle noted that it wasn’t as much in the way of wining and dining the league as it was showing a few spots that would work best.

After looking at potential venues in Center City and South Philly, the Parkway simply became the logical choice. Additionally, the NFL is still keen on taking this event outside, as Philly follows Chicago as the second town in as many years to take the draft away from New York’s Radio City Music Hall and host the event outdoors.

“The Parkway is a beautiful location that really serves as a phenomenal backdrop for the event. It really didn’t take much convincing, to be honest,” Needle said. “[There’s] the art museum, you have the Rocky steps and the history and beauty of the Parkway itself. It’s the perfect place to hold an event, and we’re just so thankful that the NFL agrees with us.”

It’s also the perfect place to hold the masses who will flock to the three-day festival beginning Thursday, as Needle estimated that over 200,000 rabid NFL fans will head to the area, with more than half being from out of town. That means full hotel rooms, full restaurants and shops to what Needle also estimated will equate to $80 million in total projected impact, including revenue that will also arrive via local taxes and jobs, primarily for the construction of the massive amphitheater on the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.

By comparison, a Philly.com report noted that the NFL Draft Experience is slated to have a $25 million production cost. Much of that — $20 million to be exact — will be covered by the NFL, with the remaining $5 million ponied up by the PHLCVB and the 2017 Host Draft Committee.

Clearly, a sound investment for the City of Brotherly Love.

On the streets of Philadelphia: Larry Needle said that after looking at potential venues in Center City and South Philly, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway became the logical choice. Philadelphia follows Chicago as the second town in as many years to host the NFL Draft outdoors. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

“The [economic] impact is massive, but it’s also the exposure,” Needle said. “For three days, Philadelphia is in faces of millions of homes, it’s on the tongues of media members, athletes, commentators, you name it. To call this a win-win for Philadelphia is understating it, and just like events we’ve had in the past, I’m confident that Philadelphia will showcase well.”

Needle’s resume of holding major events is extensive. Since his appointment as executive director of the Sports Congress in 1996, events like the NBA All-Star Weekend, NCAA Women’s Final Four, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and ESPN’s X Games have all held events here. PHL Sports nearly hit the jackpot in 2014, as it was a finalist as one of the host cities in an aggressive bid by the United States Soccer Federation for the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Russia was given rights to the 2018 event, and 2022 will be in Qatar, but had the United States won, Philadelphia would have been a major player.

“We have the infrastructure to host any major event, in my opinion,” Needle said. “Our stadiums, our mass transportation, our hotels and restaurants are world class. We don’t have to build to accommodate, it’s all already here; it’s our job [at PHL Sports] to sell our city as the place that major events want to come to. It’s what we are doing every day.”

Needle told the Times that PHL Sports is actively in discussions to host other major events. One is the continued bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which is now a joint North American bid among Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Additionally, talks with the NCAA to continue to host men’s and women’s March Madness tournament rounds are ongoing, and could the Army-Navy Game make a permanent return to Philadelphia, its home for over a century?

Maybe, if Needle has his way.

“Sports is a big part of the culture here in Philadelphia,” he said. “It starts with our hometown teams and traditions and grows to a global level. On the weekend of this massive event, Philadelphia also hosts the Penn Relays, which is a staple, and [Philly’s Arena League football team] the Soul are home [at the Wells Fargo Center]. It’s going to be a great sports weekend, and we encourage everyone to get out and enjoy it.” ••

Follow Kerith Gabriel on Twitter @SPRTSWTR. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.

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