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Kansas City, Missouri, leaders reflect on NFL Draft's impact on small businesses

NFL Draft local vendors
Posted at 2:48 PM, May 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-01 20:16:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 2023 NFL Draft was an opportunity for Kansas City to share what it has to offer to the world.

"We're still buzzing about the activity, the people that showed up, the weather," said Kathy Nelson, CEO of the KC Sports Commission and Visit KC. "All of the positive things that came from this and how we showcase Kansas City on a global stage."

One aspect of Kansas City's community highlighted at the NFL Draft were its small businesses, some of which served as food vendors inside the NFL Draft footprint.

The KC Sports Commission partnered with the NFL to create the Business Connect program, which helped minority-owned Kansas City businesses have opportunities to be involved with the draft.

Nelson said out of hundreds of applicants, 20 vendors were selected to operate at the draft. She said those vendors experienced record-breaking sales during the draft.

Some Kansas City businesses not directly involved in the draft — like Vietnamese coffee shop Cafe Cà Phê — spoke out over the weekend, saying they were "thrilled" for the business owners who benefited from the draft, but were disappointed to find their sales were lower than expected.

“It’s somewhat defeating, but it also makes you think what else can we do different to support the small businesses,” said Patrick Froman, co-owner of Fetch.

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas commented on social media, saying he was shopping and eating outside the draft area each day during the three-day event, and said he witnessed some areas closer to the draft earn a "positive hit," while others near downtown got shorted.

Lucas said one possible reason for the slow weekend for some businesses is the impression that downtown KC would be difficult to navigate.

"This hurt areas like Columbus Park, the West Bottoms, and then anywhere that relies on traffic coming into the city rather than just neighborhood traffic," Lucas said.

Nelson said she is confident the local economic impact of the NFL Draft hit the estimated $100-120 million range, with around 312,000 people attending the event over the three-day period, many of which spent money in the area.

"Those were real tax dollars that stay in our community now," she said. "So that is a positive lift for the city."

Visit KC also shared a "Run It Back For Local Business" guide, highlighting businesses near the draft, however, Nelson said she didn't expect businesses further way to directly benefit from influx of people in Kansas City.

"I don't think I had an expectation that there would be a massive lift across the city for other businesses," Nelson said.

For future events arriving to Kansas City, Nelson said one goal is spreading the word of what businesses in all corners of the city have to offer.

"Lessons learned as we move forward — how do we make sure people know where else to go and what else to do if you're not here?" she said.

Lucas said the NFL Draft brought successes, but there is still room for improvement.

"Doing big things needs to be a reality our city gets used to, but we need to make sure we keep a balance going," he stated.