In the years since the City of Cleveland and Browns placed their initial bid for the NFL Draft, officials from both parties made visits to Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville to see how other locations handled the league’s biggest offseason event.
Notes were taken. Adjustments were made. Wrinkles were added.
The bid that ultimately landed the 2021 draft, which was made official by the NFL on Wednesday, had its share of differences from the one presented for the previous two years -- most notably the centralization of the event to Cleveland itself -- but one area remained constant: The event would be unmistakably and uniquely Cleveland thanks in large part to one of the NFL’s most passionate fan bases.
“We're going to do it our way,” said David Gilbert, President and CEO of Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “We know we are going to be incredibly well prepared and that it is going to be a great experience. Vegas will look very different than Nashville looked, and Nashville looked very different than Dallas looked.
“We feel very confident that we don’t need to use any gimmicks … We are certainly going to try and do a lot of great little things to enhance the experience, but we don’t feel that we have to create something, trying to pretend that Cleveland is something else. We have a great city, and it going to show incredibly well for the people who are here.”
The finer details are still a work in process, but the plan is certainly in place. It’s been years in the making for a city and franchise, both of which are rooted deep in the history of the NFL and the game itself.
With 13 NFL markets located within an 8-hour or fewer drive, hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to flock to Cleveland for widespread celebrations at iconic downtown locations around FirstEnergy Stadium, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as well as on the shore of Lake Erie.
Rain or shine, it’s expected to be a largely outdoors event -- just like Philadelphia, Chicago and Nashville.
"Thankfully, football fans are a hearty crowd," Gilbert said. “I think as plans are solidified by the NFL of all of the facilities, there are certain parts of what we looked at that will be indoors. It is hard because we have some great indoor facilities that can be in and around where the footprint will be, but it will largely be an outdoor event.”
Photos from Wednesday's workouts
The first celebration is set for Thursday, when the Browns, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, City of Cleveland and Destination Cleveland will host a 2021 NFL Draft press conference at 3 p.m. in Public Square, complemented by a free fan tailgate.
It’s a kickoff, of sorts, for all of the hard work that will be seen far and wide for the next two years. And for Cleveland, that includes much, much more than the NFL Draft.
Just a few years removed from hosting the Republican National Convention -- an important event that went off without a hitch and once again proved Cleveland can be a great, big-event city -- Cleveland is set to host the 2019 MLB All-Star Game in July, more NCAA Tournament action in 2020, the 2022 NBA All-Star Game and the 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four.
“We're building such an incredible resume,” Gilbert said. “It really is probably the most important list of sporting events to be able to host, considering the fact that we don’t have a domed stadium that could hold a Super Bowl or a NCAA Men’s Final Four. With all these things on our résumé, we are confident there is nothing that we cannot host and we believe do it really well.”
The economic impact of holding these events is massive. Nashville estimated it generated more than $130 million by hosting last month’s NFL Draft, and Cleveland hopes to hit a similar number thanks to visitors staying at hotels, eating at local restaurants and enjoying everything the city has to offer for however long they choose to stay.
Just as important, though, Gilbert expects local Browns fans to show up en masse to put an orange and brown stamp on the three-day event.
“We know what an incredibly rabid fan base we have in this town, and they will also help make this an amazing experience for everybody who is here,” Gilbert said. “We are extremely confident in every way, shape and form, including the impact. It is going to be a phenomenal event for Cleveland.”