The Cleveland Browns haven’t had the best luck in the NFL draft. We’re looking at you, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Deshaun Kizer.
Hopefully a home field advantage will yield better results this time next year, when the three-day event hits Cleveland in late April.
Second only to the Super Bowl when it comes to pro football events, the draft has taken on a life of its own as fans of teams around the league show up to see who the future of their favorite franchises might be. Last year’s draft in Nashville drew an estimated live attendance of more than 250,000 and was watched by 47.5 million viewers at home.
“[The draft] was a small, in-house event for many years, and now it’s become an enormous celebration for the fans,” says Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland CEO David Gilbert, who worked with the Browns and the city to bring the event here. “I was in Nashville [for the draft last year], and it was so cool to meet some New Orleans Saints fans who had driven there from Mississippi.”
Gilbert, who also helped CLE land the 2022 NBA All-Star Game and the 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four, talks with us about the location selection process, why the NFL chose Cleveland and where it will be held.
Q: What was involved in bringing the draft here?
A: It evolved over time — about two-and-a-half years — beginning with informal discussions with the Browns, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The NFL put three years [2019, 2020 and 2021] out for bids among 20 cities. It was highly, highly competitive. The field was narrowed to eight cities and Nashville and Las Vegas were awarded [2019 and 2020]. Sometimes you’re not successful the first time, and you learn from it.
Q: What made the city so appealing to the NFL?
A: Cleveland is within an eight-hour drive of 15 other NFL markets, and we’re going to take advantage of that. Our location is central to the country’s football fans, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we will have over 100,000 out-of-market people here. We’ll probably have over 5,000 credentialed media here. We haven’t been given a gift — we’ve been given an opportunity.
Q: How involved were the Browns in the city’s bid?
A: We’re joined at the hip with the Browns in every way with this. This isn’t some shotgun marriage between two organizations. … The draft wouldn’t be in Cleveland if it wasn’t for the Browns.
Q: Do you know which venues will be used for the draft?
A: The exact footprint is yet to be determined, but all of the lakefront will be involved. The NFL really liked the whole North Coast Harbor area with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and FirstEnergy Stadium. And we will absolutely include the Pro Football Hall of Fame in this.