Cleveland, we’re on time. For the first time, Northeast Ohio has been selected to host the NFL Draft. After its announcement in the spring of 2019, we had visions of hundreds of thousands of football fans wearing jerseys and makeup along the busy streets of downtown Cleveland. Parties, concerts, celebrities. You name it – the world would be watching us.
But then COVID-19 happened and as Cleveland’s sporting history went on, the draft started to look more like The Fumble than a Baker Mayfield drive in the fourth quarter. Not so fast, says David Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Cleveland. While he understands that the draft, which runs from April 29 to May 1, won’t be what was originally envisioned, his hope is that the event can still be special.
“In almost every way, this is one of the biggest sporting events, if not the most important in some ways, that Cleveland has had to host,” Gilbert said. “We will always have the same footprint and showcase our beautiful lakeside with the draft standing with the lake on one side, downtown on the other.”
The NFL is certainly doing its part with a lakeside NFL Draft Theater, where picks will be announced and all entrants will be vaccinated, and an NFL Draft Experience, which will feature immersive exhibits and interactive games for all fans. Both experiences are free by reservation, although the NFL Draft Theater is already at full capacity.
“You’re going to see all of the fan favorites that we bring on the road when we go to the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft,” said Nicki Ewell, director of NFL events. “Cleveland probably won’t have the chance to host a Super Bowl, so this is your chance to see how the NFL puts on an event, and we’re the best in the world to do it.”
Below, we’ve got all the info you’ll need to feel like a first-round pick this week in Cleveland.
When and where is the NFL Draft?
The 86th Annual NFL Draft will be held April 29-May 1 at the North Coast Port of Cleveland. The main event takes place at the NFL Draft Theater, a temporary amphitheater built on the shore next to FirstEnergy Stadium. Here, the picks will be announced by Commissioner Roger Gooddell and vaccinated fans will applaud their team’s picks and boo Gooddell, as tradition dictates.
The first round starts Thursday at 8 p.m. and runs until approximately 11:30 p.m. Friday’s draft game (which includes rounds two and three) begins at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s game (rounds four through seven) begins at noon.
All fans who got a free ticket to attend the NFL Draft Theater also got a free ticket to attend this year’s NFL Draft Experience in and around FirstEnergy Stadium. If you haven’t secured a ticket to the NFL Draft Theater, you can still reserve a seat for the NFL Draft Experience, which will host 50,000 fans per day. There you can participate in various activities such as attempting a basket at FirstEnergy Stadium or taking a vertical jump against NFL pros on an LED screen. For more information on the NFL Draft Experience, click here to read our full guide to the event.
How do I get free tickets for the NFL Draft Experience?
Download the NFL for free OnePass app, which offers ticket booking options, day-of-event instructions, and other resources you’ll need.
What is different this year compared to previous years?
Well, if we go back to last year… everything. While Las Vegas was originally chosen to host last year’s draft, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NFL to change plans and move to a virtual draft. Instead of announcing the picks for a scene in Las Vegas, Goodell announced last year’s picks in his basement. That won’t be the case this year, as Goodell will be on stage in Cleveland, ready to deliver the good news in person.
Now, compared to previous years, this year’s event will be a little different again. All fans will be required to wear a face cover when inside the NFL Draft Experience and will be required to sign an in-app health pledge prior to entering. Fans are also advised to maintain a physical distance of six feet from other fans and all queues for food, food and merchandise will also have physical distancing measures in place. Autograph opportunities will also be replaced with “chalk interviews” with NFL pros and legends.
Is this a big deal?
Yes yes it is. Without an in-person draft last year, this year’s draft is a big step towards getting the sport back to normal. Additionally, this year’s project is expected to have a huge impact on the business of downtown Cleveland. According to the NFL, the 2019 draft brought in $ 133 million in revenue for Nashville. The year before, Dallas earned $ 74 million in revenue hosting the draft. While COVID may limit revenue this year, the event is still a much needed shot for a downtown area still recovering from the pandemic.
Uh, I don’t know if I want to go to town. Is it on TV?
He is. All seven rounds of the draft will air on ESPN, ABC and the NFL Network. Mike Greenberg will be this year’s host for ESPN and will be joined by Mel Kiper Jr., Louis Riddic and Booger McFarland. ABC’s coverage will be more focused on college football, with Rece Davis, Maria Taylor, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard as lead experts. On NFL Network, mainstay Rich Eisen is joined by Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis and David Shaw.
When do the Cleveland Browns pick?
For the first time in ages, the project isn’t a date for most Browns fans. Sure, they still have a first-round pick (the No.26 pick, to be exact), but that’s a far cry from the days when they had the top pick in the draft year over year. The Browns also picked 59 in the second round, 89 and 91 in the third round, 110 in the fourth round, 132 and 169 in the fifth round, 221 in the sixth round and 257 in the seventh round. Click here to find out who the Cleveland Browns should take in rounds one and two.
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