Draft Day is just about here.
And unlike past years when the Browns took center stage for the team’s high draft picks after abysmal seasons, it is the city that will be in the spotlight.
Cleveland is hosting the draft and will be in national spotlight starting Thursday night, when the top pick is called from a large 90-foot-tall stage in the shadow of FirstEnergy Stadium with Lake Erie as a backdrop.
But the pandemic has put a wrinkle on things for those hoping to attend in person.
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The NFL has worked in recent years to make the draft and the city hosting it a more fan-accessible affair. But concerns over the spread of the coronavirus has put a damper and limit on some festivities planned for Cleveland.
For one, access to the main stage area where the top round picks will be called and music acts will perform is closed to the general public. Tickets are limited to a handful of VIPs from NFL teams and the league.
And everyone will be required to wear masks.
Even the area in and around FirstEnergy Stadium where there will be football-related exhibits and demonstrations will have restricted access.
NFL Draft Experience in Cleveland
The NFL is distributing timed tickets to the NFL Draft Experience through its OnePass app. At the NFL Draft Experience, fans can watch some of the picks on large video screens and take in a “football theme park.”
Some tickets are starting to pop up for sale online, but the NFL is warning that the sale or transfer of such tickets are not permitted.
And if you think you might be able to find a vantage point to catch one of the musical acts, the NFL says the stage is positioned in such a way making that virtually impossible, even from the restricted area just outside of FirstEnergy Stadium.
How to watch Kings of Leon, Heart perform at the draft
Performances by acts like the Kings of Leon on Thursday, along with the singing of the national anthem by Ann Wilson, the lead singer of the band Heart, will be streamed on NFL.com, in the NFL app and live on the NFL’s Facebook page.
Some of performances also will air on the NFL Network, ESPN and ABC.
The event kicks off at 6 p.m. as some of the top draft prospects walk a red carpet on the plaza of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The rock hall and the Great Lakes Science Center will be among the locales in the city where draft picks will be announced.
As the draft picks roll on into Friday and Saturday, the NFL has two more musical acts set to perform on the main stage.
The Black Pumas will perform Friday night at the conclusion of Round 3 around 11 p.m. and Cleveland native Machine Gun Kelly will take the stage around 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the conclusion of the final round.
While getting close to the draft might be a bit tricky, Cleveland’s bars and restaurants planned to be open to fans sans tickets with some limitations to ensure social distancing.
Beware of parking bans, street closures in downtown Cleveland
And be careful where you park.
A fair number of streets and exits in and around the stadium will be closed beginning Wednesday. There will also be a large number of parking bans along numerous city streets.
Route 2 westbound from Interstate 90 westbound will be closed at Dead Man’s Curve. Those traveling in from I-90 eastbound can still access Route 2 westbound but the exit at East Ninth Street will be closed.
And tailgaters should take note that the city is closing the celebrated Muni Lot during the draft.
Other draft-related activities
Other events being planned include the premiere of the “100 Yards of Hope Coral Reef Restoration Documentary” that will be hosted virtually by the Greater Cleveland Aquarium at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
The movie documents the NFL’s effort to create a football-sized corral reef as part of Super Bowl LIV that was played in Miami.
To register to view the documentary, visit greaterclevelandaquarium.com/100-yards-of-hope on the internet.
To celebrate Cleveland hosting the draft, a number of NFL-sponsored charitable efforts will take place in and around the city including a special food distribution in partnership with Campbell’s Soup, trees will be planted in the Cleveland Metroparks and construction will start to renovate the football field at Shaw High School in East Cleveland.
Some events will be far away from the draft.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Village Sports Complex in Canton will put on a NFL-sanctioned Flag Football tournament on Saturday.
The museum also is preparing to host football fans visiting Northeast Ohio for the draft.
Progressive Field will play host to the Cleveland Power of Sport Summit.
The ballpark will be open to the public on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when local and national groups will have information available, along with discussions and demonstrations to address topics ranging from adaptive sports to gender equity to LGBTQIA+ athletes to mental health to racial equity.
The summit is free but participants are asked to register to attend at https://www.clesportsummit.org/ or at the ballpark’s gate before entering. The summit’s hours will be from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We hope from this [summit] people will want to enact positive change in the community,” said Rachael Stentz-Baugher, vice president of administration and development at the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
The rock hall will be open for tours during the NFL Draft.
It has a new exhibit dubbed The Biggest Show on Turf: 55 Years of Halftime Shows.
The exhibit looks back at memorable performances from the likes of Prince to Bruce Springsteen to Bruno Mars, with displays of outfits, instruments and set pieces, including The Weeknd’s mirrored infinity room from the most recent Super Bowl.
Other football-related pieces on display include the helmet Roger Daltrey of The Who wore on the cover of the 1974 album “Odds & Sods” and the University of Texas football jersey Joe Walsh wore on the Eagles Long Run tour.
Tickets to the Rock Hall must be reserved in advance at rockhall.com.
Spotlight on Cleveland
This isn’t exactly the NFL Draft envisioned years ago when Cleveland began making its pitch to host the event, but David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, isn’t complaining.
While fans won’t be “elbow to elbow” in and around the lakefront, Gilbert points out some 45 to 50 million NFL fans will be watching the city worldwide as the draft picks are announced.
There will still be tens of thousands of fans in the city, he said, offering a much-needed financial boost to the city’s hotels, bars and attractions that have been financially battered by the pandemic.
And he points out that just a few weeks ago before the tremendous strides were made in vaccinating large numbers of people there was a real possibility that the Cleveland draft would be strictly a virtual event.
“We’ve heard from a couple of business that this is what they have been hoping for to keep them hanging on to the other side of COVID,” he said.
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.