NFL Draft Gives Clevelanders, Visitors A Sense Of 'Normalcy'
Just minutes after walking into the NFL Draft Fan Experience on Thursday, Cleveland Browns fan Orlando Wheeler was ready to speak confidently about the city’s NFL Draft hosting abilities.
“We’re going to be optimistic. It’s going to be back in Cleveland for sure because we’re going to show hospitality,” said Wheeler, who lives in Euclid.
While it’s a long shot Cleveland will be chosen as a repeat NFL Draft host soon, the hospitality Wheeler boasted of did resonate with fans over the three-day event.
Glynis Kamrath, a Green Bay Packers fan from Atlanta, spoke highly of Cleveland from the main stage are of the draft Saturday.
“We’ve been able to walk around and see the city, and there’s some incredible sites to see here,” Kamrath said. “We really enjoyed being a part of it all, even through the rain and cold.”
David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, said he saw a flood of social media posts of visitors raving about the city.
“This is going to have long-lasting effects about people who think differently of Cleveland and because of that will visit here, revisit here, will move here, will invest here,” Gilbert said.
The 2021 NFL Draft is one of the first big events with a national draw to be held without drastic attendance restrictions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The city was expecting to see about 50,000 people attend the draft itself – fewer than in a normal draft year or than attended the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star Game and festivities, but considerably more than have been at any one event in the past year. More than 100,000 people were expected to be out and about overall, between the event itself and related festivities Downtown and along West 25th Street.
Downtown hotels had occupancy rates in the 80% and 90% ranges and local restaurants attempted to staff up to serve what is hoped to be the first wave of tourist season. Event organizers and Destination Cleveland are not expected to have the final tally of attendees or the draft's economic impact for a few more weeks.
Despite the large crowds, fans – Kamrath included – felt comfortable with the COVID-19 precautions that were in force for the draft.
“Especially the NFL, you have to give them props, Kamrath said. They made sure that everyone wore masks. People were taking care of their responsibilities – social, civic duties. So, I think it was incredible what they’ve done here.”
A special section close to the stage was reserved for fans who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by April 15 – two weeks before the draft.
Marshall Bowers, a Cleveland East Sider, said sometimes knowing the vaccination status of the people around him helped his comfort level after a year of being extremely cautious in public places.
“What I really appreciate, fortunately we are in an area where our concerns with COVID are a little lower because allegedly everyone is vaccinated and that’s the best part,” Bowers said. “It makes you more comfortable, but still as you can see we’re still maintaining social distance and doing the right things.”
Gilbert said the draft gave a lot of people a “first sense of normalcy” from the pandemic.
“I don’t think we went into this thinking, ‘Boy, this is our chance to show the rest of the country that we can lead in this area,’ but that certainly is the result,” he said.
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