CLEVELAND — The folks from the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission had planned to be in Las Vegas tonight observing how the city played host to the NFL Draft. Now, they will be observing just like the rest of us—from their homes.
“I’ll be watching on my couch,” said Commission President and CEO David Gilbert, who led Cleveland’s winning bid to host the 2021 draft after losing out to Nashville last year and Las Vegas this year.
“Normally we'd be watching events to see how they're held logistically and otherwise. Not so much of that with this year's draft,” he said.
The roster of events for Las Vegas finalized in late January were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic with the draft being carried out remotely, but plans continue to move forward to allow Cleveland’s 2021 show to go on.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with the NFL and until we know otherwise it is going on as normal,” Gilbert said. “We expect to have one of the biggest events Cleveland's ever had, an enormous event here next year and while there's a lot of uncertainty in the world in the coming weeks, months, we'll take that as it comes. When Sunday happens, a lot of focus will then shift to Cleveland and we'll be having those discussions very, very regularly.”
There will likely be multiple plans drawn up—depending on where we stand as a country a year from now and the level of social distancing that will be required—with all signs pointing to what they were originally thinking.
“It still absolutely will be focused on the lakefront,” Gilbert said, though changes are something the NFL is very used to carrying out. “If we look at, say, what happened in Nashville, we know up until months out there were a lot of changes. Obviously the changes get smaller and smaller but like I said, I think a lot of that focus will really really shift to Cleveland once this draft is over.”
Gilbert said this whole thing has been surreal for the sports commissions across the country.
“It’s interesting talking to industry peers multiple times a week who work in the big sports event space and nobody has answers it's sad to see. We lost a lot of events. NCAA basketball and we had an NCAA swim championship and U.S. Cornhole nationals and the MAC Basketball Tournament and other cities lost the Final Four and the Women's Final Four and everyone is asking the same questions about what the future is going to look like. Like a lot of things now, nobody knows and certainly for a year from now we're going to plan as though it's full steam ahead," Gilbert said.
The 2021 NFL Draft is an important event for the city after all of the loss that has come from the pandemic.
“We're fortunate that a lot of the events and meetings and conventions that were booked during this time have re-booked for late this year or future years so while we're losing a lot some of that we'll make up in future years,” Gilbert said. ”The Draft is really about as big as it gets for Cleveland and so that could be a date a lot of people mark on the calendar as not just a 'big boost,' but a much more needed 'big boost' than we might have thought.”