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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

NFL Draft: Pittsburgh Will Host in ’26, Denver Makes Its Case for ’27

  • The Steelers predict the upcoming draft will be the ‘largest visitor event in the history of Pittsburgh.’
  • The event’s recent success in Detroit raises the bar for a city of Pittsburgh still in civic transition.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Steel City is getting its turn with the NFL draft, but it is now facing an ever-rising bar to maintain the accelerating momentum of the league showcase. 

During spring meetings held in Nashville, the NFL selected Pittsburgh to host the 2026 draft, with the Steelers and city officials successfully bidding for the league’s second-biggest single event after the Super Bowl. The selection, while expected, maintains a recent run of chosen sites in Midwest and Rust Belt cities that otherwise would not be eligible to host a Super Bowl. 

The runaway success of Detroit, however, presents a heightened challenge to Pittsburgh. The Motor City drew a league-record attendance of 775,000 for this year’s draft, and the event helped amplify a narrative of an ongoing recovery for a city long challenged in both its local economy and pro sports. Thanks in part to a growing technology sector, Pittsburgh’s civic rebirth is arguably further along than what’s happening in Detroit. But the recent event in Michigan still has set a new standard for both Pittsburgh and next year’s draft in Green Bay. 

“Obviously, the bar has been set very high lately with some great efforts by Detroit and Kansas City, most recently hosting the draft, and I’m sure Green Bay will be great as well,” said Steelers owner Art Rooney II. “We’re looking forward to following in that tradition.”

Pittsburgh has hosted numerous major sports events over the years, including the 1994 and 2006 MLB All-Star Games, ’11 NHL Winter Classic, multiple rounds of March Madness in both men’s and women’s college basketball, and a litany of NFL and NHL playoff games. But all those are likely to be surpassed by the forthcoming attendance for the NFL draft, at least if the recent iterations are any indication.

“We think it will be the largest visitor event in the history of Pittsburgh,” Rooney said. “We think Steeler Nation from around the country will come for the event.”

The turnout will certainly top the one other time the city hosted the draft, back in December 1947, when it was held in a hotel, and had none of the fan-facing components central to the event today. 

Up Next 

The exact layout of the entire draft footprint in Pittsburgh is still being finalized. But in addition to a planned main stage along the North Shore, near Acrisure Stadium, the NFL plans to create a fan experience of some type at Point State Park. That locale, near where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River, is a focal point for the city, but it has not been employed as frequently for major sports events coming to town.

The next available NFL draft, meanwhile, is now in 2027. The Broncos—who continue to remake themselves under the new, Greg Penner–led ownership group—have submitted a bid. The Panthers and Charlotte are also reportedly interested in a future draft, but did not submit a bid for the latest formal consideration by the league. 

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