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NFL Draft Brings 775,000 to Downtown Detroit

How Did it Impact the Area Businesses?


The NFL draft brought 775,000 people into Detroit over the 72-hour event, shattering the previous record of 600,000 set in Nashville in 2019.

Are Detroiters surprised? Not really. Because Detroiters “show up and show out – it’s what we do,” said House of Pure Vin owner, Regina Gaines.

Gaines, with her location at Woodward between Clifford and Grand River, had a prime opportunity to capitalize on the massive crowds and put her business in the spotlight, as did all other businesses, restaurants, and bars in and around the draft footprint.

Detroitisit spoke to some who reaped the benefits and went above and beyond with activations, creative promotions, and giveaways.

One such brand was Carhartt, which partnered with Pensole Lewis College to host a design contest with the winner’s design featured on a limited run of T-shirts that were exclusively available at their two Detroit Carhartt stores.

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“While Detroit was in the national spotlight, we wanted to shine the light on our local, hardworking artists who are making their own histories, just like the athletes selected in the Draft,” said Ben Ewy, vice president of global product design at Carhartt. “Our goal was to celebrate the draft locally by making the shirts a special, limited-edition piece available to Detroiters and those coming to visit our great city.”

The winning designer, Matthew Holness, is a Detroit native who incorporated themes of community, industry, toughness, and grit to honor the hardworking people who embody the spirit of Detroit.

Gaines and her staff took advantage of the block being closed and hosted a full activation in front of the store with food trucks, a band and DJ, food from three top local chefs cooking on the patio, and a cocktail bar.

“Michiganders came out and supported their city and the shops and restaurants and we appreciated that,” said Gaines.

Rebel Nell was selected to create an official custom NFL draft gift that was given out at the opening gala. They also had a designated space in Capitol Park with a collaborative art display.

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“The opportunity to provide the official gift was very cool and special,” said Amy Peterson, co-owner of Rebel Nell. The pulse and energy of the event was incredible and we were able to get some great brand exposure.”

The Lip Bar on Woodward gave away mystery bags, free waxes, and skin care products and hosted a Pedi-Cab that traveled around the city for the month of April.Screen Shot 2024 05 20 at 8.12.24 AM

Said Ashley Gilbert, head of business development at the Lip Bar, “We worked to promote the business in ways that people could see outside of the gated area.”

The business owners spoke a bit about what it meant for Detroit to be chosen for the draft.

“It was an honor to be selected and I’m grateful to the NFL for believing in our great city,” said Peterson. “Detroiters love the city, but having others see and experience it on this huge platform was so important.”

“Some people have had a negative perception of Detroit, but this was an opportunity for me and my neighbors to change that perception, and I am certain we did. This is our comeback story,” said Tom Teknos, Owner of the Hudson Cafe. “People from all over the country got to experience Detroit for what we know it represents… resilience, strength, loyalty, and kindness.”

“I give so much credit to Dan Gilbert,’ Gaines said. “He started this campaign journey “why not us” some time ago. He sincerely loves our city and he wants to see it win.”

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So how do these business owners feel that the draft went?

“The draft was extremely well put together and it was a home run,” Teknos said. The restaurant, which averages 400 – 500 guests on an average Saturday, served 1,500 and on the first day of the draft.

Peterson, who feels the draft helped to elevate the Rebel Nell brand, said, “It put Detroit on a national stage that we could all benefit from,” she said.

“We were able to generate buzz for the shirt and there was a line of people waiting for our Cass Ave., store to open on day one of the Draft to purchase it,” said Ewy. “We sold out of the shirts by noon on Day 1 – eight hours before the first selection was made. We were thrilled to see Detroiters rally around their hometown.”

These retailers and business owners now look to what’s most important – the future.

Peterson says,

“I think the national attention and buzz will encourage more people and drive more development and more visitors downtown. That’s where the real impact from the draft will come.”

Teknos weighs in, saying, ”I think it opened people’s eyes to the retail opportunities, the Riverwalk, the great architecture downtown, and more people will want to come and be a part of that.”

“Often women don’t think about downtown as the place to go for beauty needs, but the Lip Bar offers both products and services and a great experience and we are hoping more people see that and will think of us for their personal beauty needs going forward,” said Gilbert. 

Gaines closes by saying, “We have gone so long in creating this separate life in Oakland County and Washtenaw County, many people in our state don’t come even downtown. I’m hoping the draft changes that a bit. We will see when summer comes – summer will tell.”


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