Editor’s note: The following story was originally published by KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR member station, and a fellow member of the KC Media Collective. Click here to read the original story or here to sign up for KCUR’s email newsletter.
The NFL’s business connect program aims to feature diverse, local businesses for major events. Next week’s NFL Draft is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Kansas City, but these local business owners say they’re up for the challenge.
Chef Jayaun Smith has been moving a mile a minute lately — communicating constantly with his suppliers to see if they can set aside extra beef and requesting emergency deliveries to keep enough inventory to feed thousands of people at the NFL Draft next week.
Smith owns Sauced, a fast-food stand tucked behind Academy Bank in downtown Kansas City, near 18th and Main streets.
“It’s gonna take preparation to a whole different level,” Smith said. “This is gonna be thousands that, not only myself, but my team has cooked for.”
Click here to read more about Sauced’s start in the Crossroads.
Smith is part of an NFL diversity initiative called Business Connect, which offers contracts to local businesses to supply for some of their major events, like the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, and NFL Draft. The businesses must be majority owned by women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, or LGBTQ+ individuals.
The goal is to put a spotlight on diverse local businesses in host cities and put them in a position to gain future contracts by working large events and have their work recognized.
Smith applied for the program in September. He found out in March that Sauced would be stationed at the NFL Draft Experience on the National WWI Museum and Memorial lawn — a prime spot for foot traffic.
“I wanna let them know that we got one of the best burgers here in Kansas City and to start voting for us for it too. We need some awards here, you know, Pitch (Magazine), all of that, Feast Magazine, you know, we want it all,” he laughed.
Sauced will serve a simplified version of what is available on their menu, with a selection of burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings, and fries.
Local businesses accepted into the program are experienced and ready to work, but Smith said Business Connect representatives have been readily available if they have questions.
“If you don’t understand something or if you feel like you can’t take nothing on, they literally are some really helpful people, so they’re not setting anybody up for failure,” he said. “They’re not putting you in front of people that they feel like you’re gonna fail in front of.”
Lily Floral Designs
Lily Williams and Betsy Ford co-own Lily Floral Designs, north of downtown Kansas City on E. 5th Street. They create floral arrangements for weddings and other events, along with single arrangements.
Williams said before last fall, the NFL draft was not on her radar.
“My uncle sent me a link that he saw something about it on the news and said, ‘You should apply,’” Williams said. “I just randomly applied, and I told Betsy, ‘I applied for us to do the NFL Draft, wouldn’t that be awesome?’ and then I kind of forgot about it.”
This spring, they got the official offer to provide flowers at Union Station.
“I screamed, I was sitting at the front counter, and I was like ‘You guys, the draft, you guys, you guys, we got an email from the NFL,’” Williams said.” Then Betsy started trying to talk to me about something else when I was staring off into space. I said, ‘Sorry, I’m still in la-la land over here about the NFL.’”
The floral company produced 250 weddings last year, and business continues to roll in. They were given photos to use as inspiration for floral arrangements at Union Station.
At least one arrangement will feature red, blue, and purple flowers based on a painting of the Kansas City Skyline.
“They provided inspiration boards, they provided room layouts, everything like that, which is amazing,” Ford said. “That helps us get a really clear proposal quickly to somebody.”
Williams and Ford hope the NFL Draft will help them reach a new demographic.
“Our hope is that we get some brand recognition and people recognize this for events in the future,” Ford said. “Whether that’s more corporate events, weddings in the future, just needing to send flowers because it’s somebody’s birthday or somebody’s in the hospital, a new baby, whatever. So just kind of like hoping to get in front of people that we wouldn’t normally get in front of.”
Alpha Graphics Owner Haley Haar recalled a quiet Friday afternoon in January when she got the news that her company had been accepted to provide printing and signage for the draft.
“I don’t remember there being many staff around, and I’m remembering thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really exciting, but I have nobody to tell,’” she laughed.
The team at Alpha Graphics is still unpacking at their new location on East 16th Street. They moved in a few months ago but have stayed busy fulfilling marketing and printing services.
“I anticipate that through the draft we’ll be getting a lot of those last minute calls of, ‘Hey, we forgot we need a sign for this, or flyers’, or whatever it might be,” Haar said.
Alpha Graphics already has an ongoing partnership with a group that is in charge of advertising at Kansas City International Airport, where they install ads as they come in.
But working with the NFL has allowed them to build on that momentum. NFL Draft graphics have recently been installed at downtown locations for Rally House, which is one of their current customers through Business Connect.
“It’s a slightly increased workload. We’re bringing in some of our part-time helpers or contract workers that aren’t regularly employed with us,” Haar said.
Haar plans to use this experience into how she conducts future business.
“We have the airport and now we have the draft. I think after that it’s kind of taking some of those things and taking those lessons we’ve learned and incorporating them into our day-to-day business,” she said.
B.J. Waymer was contracted to design the Business Connect program in 2015. Her company, B.J. Waymer and Associates, is based in North Carolina.
She says she’s loved watching businesses in Kansas City use the experience to network and showcase their talents for the chance to procure future contracts.
“The journey for our team has really been the joy of watching this program take hold and then seeing the successes,” she said. “We’ve had 100 percent buy-in from NFL leadership in terms of providing all of the resources that we need to be successful in whatever market we work in, be that, you know, Super Bowl or draft.”
Contact information from the businesses involved in the program is shared with local teams, airport executives, and convention centers to create more opportunities for them in their hometown.
“Those kinds of connections, we see them made in almost every city at the draft and the Super Bowl,” Waymer said. “I think that’s the legacy of the program, the connections that are made.”