Cleveland prepares for big NFL draft weekend with smaller expectations

Organizers still working on numbers for events that begin April 29
Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 1:16 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cleveland is a little more than three weeks away from hosting an event that’s taken years to plan.

“We started bidding on this event as a sport commission more than four years ago,” says Mike Mulhall, of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “The planning process has not exactly been what we anticipated.”

The pandemic changed all that, but construction is changing the Cleveland Port Authority into a football theme park: The NFL Draft Experience, complete with huge 80-foot stage.

The crowds, however, won’t be as impressive as the 150,000 a day in Nashville, Chicago, and Philadelphia, pre-pandemic.

“We won’t be anything near that,” says Mulhall. “You just can’t socially distance and do that. But we do have a huge footprint, we are outdoors, and we just work with state and local government to understand how many people can fit on this campus.”

The NFL Draft also generates more than $100 million in economic impact.

“We’re certainly not going to see that, we know that because of the pandemic,” says Mulhall.

Giant helmets of all 32 teams adorn Mall C overlooking FirstEnergy Stadium as organizers prepare for out-of-town visitors, just not as many.

“We’re really looking at this as our coming-out parting, trying to focus on what it will be, not what it won’t be,” says Mulhall.

The organizers will announce concert events in the coming weeks and, as the first major sporting event in more than a year, it will serve as a dress rehearsal for the NBA All-Star Game next February and the 2024 Women’s Final Four.

Tickets for the free NFL Draft Experience are available when you download the NFL One Touch App.

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