The NFL Combine experience has really changed over the course of the years. My first time coming here about four years ago at the RCA Dome, I was able to broadcast Sparky’s Midday Madness in a hallway along with another radio station from Texas. Back then coaches, players, scouts, and general managers would leave the field through one door that led down a hallway to a bunch of fans waiting for them to get autographs and pictures. I remember Bears HC Lovie Smith showing up that year after having been to the Super Bowl against the Colts and you would’ve thought Michael Jackson was in the building the way he was swarmed by fans and media. That same week I was joined by many people that would sit down and do the show including Packers GM Ted Thompson who sat down for 30 minutes with me.
Fast forward to these last couple of years, where over 800 media credentials were handed out and there is now a radio row at Lucas Oil Field featuring local, national, and satellite stations. The league blocks off areas where NFL personnel can go without bother from fans or media members. It’s become a league event more than an event that even the average fan can enjoy. Like many sports leagues now a day, the fan is left behind.
While everybody realizes that I’m an NBA guy, the best experience for a fan wanting to get close to their favorite coach, general manager or upcoming star in the league is the NBA Summer League. Two gyms connected by a concourse filled with concession stands and people mulling about between fans and NBA personnel. You sit in the stands for the games and you might find yourself sitting next to Denver HC George Karl or Spurs HC Gregg Popovich. Last year Karl sat in the stands and signed autographs while watching the games being played. If you want to meet one of the new draft picks, you will have that chance as well, as many of the players will sit in the stands while not playing for their team.
So while the NBA might not have the popularity of the NFL, they definitely have the best off-season fan experience. Oh did I mention that the Summer League is in Las Vegas in July NOT Indy in February? See you in Vegas!