After holding its draft virtually in 2020, the NFL is going back outdoors.
On Monday, the league announced the draft will be held at open-air Cleveland locations — including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Browns’ stadium — from April 29 to May 1.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the first-round results from the main stage, with Lake Erie in the backdrop. The league has begun inviting likely Round 1 prospects to Cleveland — a similar number to recent years.
NFL executive vice president Peter O’Reilly wouldn’t say exactly how many fans will be allowed but said “obviously we want to maximize the number of fans that can be part of this free outdoor event safely.” Final totals will evolve in the coming weeks, but the league expects “tens of thousands of fans” to participate during the three days of the draft, he said.
All the fans selected for the “inner circle” — in which each team selects supporters to watch the draft stage from a front-row seat — will be vaccinated. Teams will send representatives — likely former players — to announce their second- and third-round picks in Cleveland. They figure to be vaccinated. On Day 3, teams will announce picks from their home cities.
As was the case when the draft took place in Chicago — and then Dallas, Philadelphia and Nashville, Tennessee — the league is holding a fan festival adjacent to the draft. Fans there won’t be required to have a vaccine. Masks and social-distancing will be mandatory at the draft and at the fan festival, which will feature food, drinks and live music.
Originally scheduled to be in Las Vegas, last year’s draft was instead conducted virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Goodell read off draft selections from a chair in his Bronxville, New York, basement, while prospects gathered in front of cameras in their homes.
“He’s excited to get out of the basement,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Cleveland was selected as the home of the 2021 draft before the pandemic struck, though the league didn’t confirm its plans to stay there until Monday. Las Vegas will host in 2022.