Apr 26, 2024 - News

Scenes from a sports-centric celebration of Detroit during the NFL Draft

A drumline in front of the RenCen.

The Lions' Honolulu Boom drumline performs on Jefferson Avenue. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Day one of the 2024 NFL Draft on Thursday was a 12-hour celebration of the city of Detroit.

Why it matters: Detroit made NFL history, breaking the league's day-one draft attendance record with more than 275,000 people downtown.

  • The event reached capacity around 7pm and gates were closed.

The big picture: Thousands of fans in a sea of Honolulu Blue — speckled with rival fans in yellow, brown, navy and other NFL team colors — strolled Woodward Avenue and Hart Plaza for hours Thursday. They posed with famous players' jerseys and giant helmets, collected swag and autographs, and made observations about the city around them.

  • A closed-to-traffic Woodward Avenue meant pedestrians abandoned congested sidewalks once they passed the freeway upon arriving at the draft footprint near Hockeytown Cafe.
  • And it'll happen all over again Friday.
The view down Woodward, crowded with people.
A southbound view down Woodward Avenue. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

The Axios Detroit team surveyed the scene, collecting observations from attendees of an event that's being billed as a game-changer for a recovering city a decade post-bankruptcy.

What they're saying: "The amount of things happening down here for this, to get every team and city represented in the way they have, it's amazing," Lanny Pizzingrilli, who drove to Detroit from Ontario, Canada, for the first round yesterday, tells Axios.

  • Pizzingrilli says he's been to Detroit for Red Wings games at Joe Louis Arena but the scene Thursday couldn't compare, he says.
  • "Never seen anything like this," he says.
A man poses with a huge helmet.
Steelers fan Lanny Pizzingrilli flashes his fists for a photo with a Baltimore Ravens helmet, his team's archrival. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Hart Plaza's attractions included a Super Bowl ring display, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, an autograph stage and a football-toss game.

  • Mateo Cabanas, 17, and his buddies Brady Everitt and Anthony Azar waited for about 45 minutes for the football toss.
  • Cabanas won an impromptu competition the trio created to see who could hit their target the most.
  • "I'll hold this above them forever," a victorious Mateo told Axios.
Fans throwing footballs.
Anthony Azar, of Clinton Township, throws a football at one of Hart Plaza's activity stations. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Jets superfan Frank West, who has been to recent NFL drafts in Las Vegas and Kansas City, told Axios he was impressed with Detroit's layout because it's walkable. "They did a really nice job here," West said.

  • West was waiting in line for an official NFL Draft on-stage Jets hat. The hats cost $50.99 while T-shirts at the booth were $39.99-$55.99.
A man holding his fist up.
Jets fan Frank West waits in line for an official NFL Draft hat ($50.99). Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Mariners' Church of Detroit, which sits right next to a draft experience entrance by the riverfront, was welcoming visitors in to "Come pray! For your team!" per a sign out front.

  • The church held a service Thursday afternoon blessing the city and the NFL — and most particularly, blessing a first-round Lions draft pick jersey given to the church by the league, Rev. Todd Meyer tells Axios Detroit.
The reverend in front of his church.
Rev. Todd Meyer outside Mariners' Church of Detroit. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

By the numbers: The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting cleaned up for the monumental event now underway, while the NFL's budget for the draft was $25 million. The city spent $430,000 on gateway signage, including the "DETROIT" sign on I-94.

  • It also spent $230,000 from the general fund on City Walls murals, including the large cleats dotted through downtown, plus murals at People Mover stations and on electrical transformer boxes to dress them up.
  • $1.5 million was spent from the city's Street Fund, a share of the gas tax revenues, on traffic signal improvements, tree plantings and median work.
  • Another $3,000 was spent on hosting business certification fairs for minority- and women-owned businesses, through which more than 300 businesses became certified.

Bottom line: Visitors and residents alike told Axios the scene downtown was like nothing like they've ever seen.

Fans pose in homemade superhero costumes clad in blue.
Jessica Thompson and Roc Willis of Los Angeles came to the draft dressed up as Chargers superheroes. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios
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