Given the nation remains in a pandemic, the NFL is more than happy with 160,000 fans for the Cleveland draft last week.
While these numbers pale in comparison to what the three-day draft drew in Nashville and Philadelphia in previous years, they also reflect the necessary health and safety protocols that the league has followed.
“We hit 160,000 in three days,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL executive vice president of club business and league events for the NFL, on Tuesday.
“We experienced rough weather on Thursday evening, but the audience experience has improved. It’s a testament to Brown’s fans and Cleveland as a whole. Of course, the numbers are lower than if we had left the pandemic completely behind us, but to put it into context, it’s more than the first year (2015, when the New York draft was postponed) at Grant Park in Chicago .
“This was certainly a hybrid design when we left the other side of the pandemic. Last year it was about representing where we all were, which was literally in our cellars. This indicated brighter days and how to safely collaborate outdoors. “
Just like in Chicago, Philadelphia and Nashville, the NFL took advantage of an iconic locale within the city and built a stage and fan complex on the shores of Lake Erie and next to Browns Stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The views voiced on television made this draft feel like a big event, which Americans covet as the COVID-19 threat persists.
In fact, many sports and other entertainment genres watched the NFL to see how things went. There were large numbers of vaccinated fans – a requirement near the stage – and a mandatory mask worn elsewhere on what O’Reilly called the “wider campus” campus.
“We’re in a very different place than last year,” noted O’Reilly. And that’s what we had to do while working with the CDC and local health authorities to strike the right balance with the fans in attendance and do it safely. And so many of these fans … got vaccinated and they were proud to be vaccinated and excited to be back outside at an event like this.
“We took achieving that balance very seriously when we rolled out and carried out our plan.”
The next planned major event with large crowds will take place in early August at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Two classes will be introduced: the eight elect of 2021; five modern players from the 2020 group; and a 2020 centenary class of 15. Last year’s rollout was postponed due to the pandemic.
“We’re working very closely with David Baker and the Hall of Fame on both the anchoring and the game, which was postponed last year and includes the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers,” said O’Reilly. “And we’re looking forward to getting off to a great start and hopefully having fans on hand in training camps.”
O’Reilly and the League are also confident that completion of the draft was a harbinger. After the final selection was announced, a rainbow appeared over the Cleveland skyline.
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