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

Greater Cleveland Sports Commission helps Browns secure marquee event

May 23, 2019

Daryl Ruiter-Cleveland, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The NFL Draft is coming to Cleveland in 2021.

The moment that the NFL announced that it would like to take its offseason Super Bowl on the road Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam knew they had to get it to Cleveland.

“It’s a big big deal to our area, one of the founding areas of the NFL and we look forward to hosting the draft,” owner Jimmy Haslam said. “The NFL went on the road several years ago and the drafts have been held in Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville [and they] have been tremendously successful and we look forward to following in their footsteps.”  

After long days and nights, weeks, months and years of putting together proposals and partnerships, their hard work paid off thanks to an assist from David Gilbert and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

“We are building such an incredible résumé,” Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, said Wednesday.

The work Gilbert has done on behalf of the city, and its professional teams, is nothing short of incredible.

Since 2000, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission is responsible for more than 190 major sporting events that have contributed over $686 million in economic impact to Northeast Ohio.

More major events are on the way.

The 2019 MLB All-Star Game will be played at Progressive Field in July. The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, 2022 NBA All-Star Game and 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four will all be played at the soon to be newly renovated and state of the art Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

And now the 2021 NFL Draft.

Not bad for a city once dubbed the mistake on the lake.

“It really is probably the most important list of sporting events to be able to host, considering the fact that we don’t have a domed stadium that could hold a Super Bowl or a NCAA Men’s Final Four,” Gilbert said. “With all these things on our résumé, we are confident there is nothing that we cannot host and we believe do it really well.”

Unless the Haslams decide they’d like to drop over a billion dollars to build a dome, which at this point doesn’t seem very likely, Cleveland will never host a Super Bowl or Final Four, but thanks to the work of Gilbert and other civic leaders, it hasn’t stopped the city from landing the largest events in sports which have helped to change the image of Cleveland nationally.

“We have a great city. We have great people in our city,” Browns senior vice president of communications Peter John-Baptiste said. “We have an extremely passionate fan base and a unique fan base. Those three things will come through pretty clearly on the broadcast when people see a draft from Cleveland.”

The NFL reported that this year’s draft not only drew 600,000 fans over the three-day event this past April, but it resulted in an economic impact for Nashville of over $230 million.

Gilbert didn’t want to set expectations for Cleveland’s that high.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to make some bold prediction,” Gilbert said. “What we know is we have to work with the NFL to absolutely knock it out of the park and make sure that we do everything we can, to market like crazy to all those other NFL markets in the region and make sure that when those people are here that we do everything we can to ensure that they have a fantastic experience.”

Trips to recent drafts helped Gilbert and the Haslams to effectively modify their bid from the 2019 and 2020 proposals that included Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame to a Cleveland-centric event. That combined with the proximity of so many other NFL markets helped to finally push Cleveland over the top.

“We are really within an eight-hour drive from 13 NFL markets,” John-Baptiste said. “Getting people in from obviously different teams – this is a Cleveland event and you really want fans from all over the NFL to come – an eight-hour driving distance for 13 markets is a really good thing.”

As for the draft itself, the plan now is to make it uniquely Cleveland.  

“We're going to do it our way,” Gilbert said. “We know we are going to be incredibly well prepared and that it is going to be a great experience. Vegas will look very different than Nashville looked, and Nashville looked very different than Dallas looked.”

The draft has been the lifeline of hope for starved Browns fans for nearly three decades full of heartbreak and disappointment, but Cleveland’s franchise is finally on the rise and the timing is almost perfect.

Specific details of the Cleveland draft have yet to be ironed out – including where they’ll set up the massive stage the country will have all eyes on as the picks are announced – but the vision is to include FirstEnergy Stadium, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the lakefront and other downtown landmarks and destinations in the festivities.

“When the league made the decision to start rotating the draft, this is exactly what they wanted,” John-Baptiste said. “They wanted each draft to take on a unique personality of the city that it is in. I think it has worked really well over the last couple of years.”

With nearly two years to plan the party, Cleveland is now on the clock.