CLEVELAND — The 2021 NFL Draft in downtown Cleveland is one of the first major public events since the pandemic started, following the NFL’s Super Bowl and NCAA’s March Madness Tournament.
The way to keep everyone safe relied mostly on using more space, being outdoors, and rules about distancing, mask-wearing, and special access for vaccinated fans and officials. Even though the draft now travels around to a new city every year (except during 2020 when it was completely virtual), COVID was the audible no one saw coming.
“When we started planning over two years ago, we couldn’t have anticipated that we’d be in the current situation that we’re in now,” said NFL Director of Events Heather Nanberg.
That’s why she’s in charge of the largest draft stage the NFL has ever built so that it has enough room to fit representatives from all 32 NFL teams and specially selected fans, all of whom will have to be vaccinated.
The 4,000-5,000 fans who will get to watch the draft in front of the stage also needed to have their second vaccine shot more than two weeks ago and will wear stickers showing that they’ve been vaccinated.
“Everyone, regardless of vaccination, will also have to wear masks throughout the experience,” said NFL Senior Director of Event Planning Eric Finkelstein.
Fans don’t need vaccines for the NFL Draft Experience, which will allow 50,000 fans to play on the field at First Energy Stadium and do other actives outside the stadium.
Commissioner Rodger Goodell will be in Cleveland announcing picks from the stage with some prospects in attendance, but the teams will not have someone to hand the draft card in person. That’s all being done virtually, just like 2020, which Nanberg says is a feature the NFL enjoyed and is trying to recreate.
“There were some really cool moments where we got a lot closer to a lot of prospects…and we got to see into their homes,” said Nanberg.
Many fans can't get close to the stage, so three Rock the Clock end zones are set up in Playhouse Square, Flats East Bank, and Mall C, allowing fans to watch the draft from a distance.
Kevin Barry at WEWS first reported this story.