The architect

Dual passion for sports, Philly fuels PHL Sports executive Larry Needle


Photo by Maria Young

Center City and South Philly, the Parkway simply became the logical choice. Addition- ally, 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 NYC’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,” said Needle. “[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 April 27, as Needle estimated that more than 200,000 rabid NFL fans will head to the area, with more than half 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 art museum steps.

By comparison, a 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.

“The [economic] impact is massive, but it’s also the exposure,” said Needle. “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 (now PHL Sports) in 1996, events such as the NBA All-Star Weekend, NCAA Women’s Final Four, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and ESPN’s X Games have held events here. PHL Sports nearly hit the jack- pot 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 PW 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 more than a century?

Maybe, if Needle has his way.

“Sports is a big part of the culture here in Philadelphia,” said Needle. “It starts with our hometown teams and traditions and grows to a global level. On the week- end 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.”