Daryl Ruiter-92.3 The Fan

With 2021 NFL Draft secured, what’s next? A Super Bowl?

Never say never says GCSC CEO David Gilbert, NFL

May 24, 2019
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Daryl Ruiter-Cleveland, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The 2021 NFL Draft is the fifth major sporting event on the calendar over the next six years for the city of Cleveland.

This July MLB’s mid-summer classic comes to Progressive Field. In 2020 March Madness, 2022 the NBA All-Star game and in 2024 the NCAA Women’s Final Four. 10-15 years ago, that might have seemed like the impossible dream, but a lot has changed in recent years.

“Cleveland is a very different town [now] and is believing in itself,” David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, told 92.3 The Fan Thursday. “We don’t do it alone. The Browns, the Indians, the Cavs, the Mid American Conference that we team up with, if they don’t really want this, it doesn’t happen.

“We’ve proven ourselves, and I think that along with Cleveland’s resurgence as a city, and having more facilities, having more beautiful spaces helps make it possible.”

So, what’s next?

Could Gilbert and the Browns go after a Super Bowl to be played in Cleveland?

“They did host a Super Bowl in the Meadowlands and you never know those things,” Gilbert said. “But the one thing we can control is the kind of experience visitors have with the Draft in Cleveland. So, if the NFL is here and all of their ownership, everybody around them, sees what we can do, you never say never.”

Gilbert has been instrumental, if not the driving force, behind Cleveland’s success landing so many marquee events – including the 2016 Republican National Convention which went off without a hitch and showed the world Cleveland is a not only world class city but a destination for premiere events.

Aubrey Walton, director of events, partnerships and integration for the NFL, represented the league on Thursday for the official draft announcement held at Public Square in downtown Cleveland and it was a question we posed to her.

Could Cleveland possibly host a Super Bowl, even without a domed stadium?

“I would never say no,” Walton, told 92.3 The Fan. “I think the Draft will be kind of a test to see how Cleveland adapts to what an NFL league event is, but a Super Bowl is never out of the question for any city.”

Landing the 2021 NFL Draft was the culmination of years of hard work by Gilbert, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the city of Cleveland and even state of Ohio. As Gilbert noted, the 2021 NFL Draft is the biggest event the city could attract outside of Super Sunday or the Final Four.

“This is a biggie, this is a biggie,” Gilbert said. “You just feel the energy around football in Cleveland, and that’s what the Draft is. It’s a football party and this will be our football party.”

Without a dome, hosting a Super Bowl is likely unrealistic, no matter how positive the feelings were on a sunny 80-degree afternoon in late May.

In 2014 and 2015 FirstEnergy Stadium underwent a $125 million facelift that included new audio and video systems, reconstructed levels behind each endzone, modernized suites and club spaces but decisions about the long-term viability of the stadium, which opened in 1999 and enters its 21st season this fall, will have to be made.

“We love our stadium,” Browns executive vice president JW Johnson said. “Obviously it’s great seeing our fans pouring out downtown and enjoying what the city has to offer after some wins, but we know we’ve got some things we need to fix. We’re working through that.

“We still have a handful of years before we have to make a decision but we’re in the process of thinking about what we need to do but right now we feel pretty comfortable about where we are.”

While the Browns are currently in the midst of exploring their options when it comes to the long-term future of where football will be played in Cleveland, the Haslams have expressed their desire to remain on the lakefront.

They are eying opportunities for development around the current stadium to enhance the fan experience as well as inject some life into an underutilized asset outside of the Great Lakes Science Center and Rock Hall.

Bidding on a Super Bowl might be the most difficult thing to do, but if Cleveland decides to give it a try, Gilbert is definitely the man they want doing it.

“We go into every one of these thins believing we’re going to win,” Gilbert said. “If they don’t choose Cleveland, we walk away really upset and said but we also believe they made a mistake in not choosing Cleveland.”

Related: Jimmy and Dee Haslam's persistence pays off in landing 2021 NFL Draft