As Commissioner Roger Goodell walked onto the stage to open the 2021 NFL Draft April 29, rain poured down and temperatures dipped into the low 50s. But that did not stop Cleveland from throwing the biggest party the city has seen in over a year.
With a maximum capacity of 50,000 attendees for each of the three days of the draft, fans flooded the lawn outside of FirstEnergy Stadium to watch the draft picks walk across the stage. While people could get a glimpse of the stage from the ramps of the stadium or further down the lawn, about 3,000 lucky fans were permitted in a vaccinated fan zone directly adjacent to the stage, billed as the largest constructed for an NFL draft. Those fans had to provide proof of a full vaccination prior to March 15 in order to gain access to this area.
Cleveland-area resident Becky Sebo was one of those 3,000 people, along with her boyfriend, Michael Hirsch. She said it was cool to see the flashy team-themed outfits people were wearing, as well as the out-of-towners who were enjoying themselves at the event.
“Everyone just had a huge smile on their face,” said Sebo, who is a member of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, where her mother, Kathryn Wolfe Sebo, is cantor. “I feel like the city of Cleveland has a lot of pride when it hosts large events like this. I feel like the city is showing off, and everyone’s really excited.”
Throughout the three days of the draft, as well as the week leading up to the draft, tens of thousands of guests made their way through downtown to take advantage of the bars and restaurants the city has to offer.
Not only was the draft well-attended, but the broadcast viewership was near record-breaking, as well. According to the NFL, the 2021 edition of the draft was the third-most viewed draft, behind 2019 and 2020. Across NFL Network, ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and digital channels, 6.1 million people tuned in across three days.
David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland, expects the combination of TV viewership and in-person guests to have long-term benefits for the city.
“(We want) more people visiting Cleveland, more people moving to Cleveland, more people investing in Cleveland,” Gilbert told the Cleveland Jewish News. “I think there is also a long-term effect related to how this community and people in it feel about themselves. And how we get more positive sentiment from local people saying even more wonderful things within their networks about their own community.”