Cleveland will finally be the home of the NFL Draft.
After twice becoming a finalist to host the draft but falling short of receiving league approval, the city has been selected as the site for the 2021 draft.
The league gave Cleveland the nod Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings in Key Biscayne, Florida, after the Super Bowl & Major Events Advisory Committee and full ownership reviewed the proposal.
Cleveland has never hosted the draft before, and the festivities will start right away. The Browns, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, city of Cleveland and Destination Cleveland will hold a draft news conference at 3 p.m. Thursday in Public Square. The news conference will be complemented by a free fan tailgate, which will feature interactive games, food and beverages, music and photo opportunities.
"[We] want to thank our fellow owners in the NFL for having confidence in our organization, the city of Cleveland," Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said during a news conference televised on NFL Network. "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."
The three-day draft will offer fans free celebrations at downtown locations around FirstEnergy Stadium, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, said on a conference call the draft "largely is an outdoor event." He said a centralized downtown location hasn't been finalized, but the Cleveland Mall and lakefront will be featured.
Browns left guard and team captain Joel Bitonio is thrilled for the city.
"When [Cleveland] had the [NBA] Finals and the World Series, I thought downtown was rocking," Bitonio said. "I think all the people came in and really saw how cool the city of Cleveland really is.
"We have truly diehard football fans in this part of the country. ... Ohio’s a good base to be like, 'Hey, this is what football’s about, kind of where football came from.' "
The Browns and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission joined forces to submit the bid to the league. Those two organizations, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Visit Canton had previously bid for Cleveland and Canton to jointly host the draft in 2019 or 2020.
However, Canton was not included this time around.
"Certainly a big difference is one location instead of two, and there is no doubt that the Hall of Fame will play a role," Gilbert said. "But, physically, the event is difficult to do in two different places."
Asked whether Hall of Fame construction was a factor in the decision to drop Canton from the proposal, Gilbert said, "We really can't speak to that because all we know is we weren't awarded the draft for '19 or '20. The NFL didn't give very detailed explanations, so it's really hard to speak to that."
Gilbert said Cleveland hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention made a difference by giving the NFL confidence in the city's ability to hold a major event.
Nashville, Tennessee, hosted the draft last month, and Las Vegas will do the same in 2020.
According to the NFL, an estimated 600,000 people flocked to the draft in Nashville over three days, setting an attendance record for the event.
The league and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. announced April's draft generated a record $133 million in direct spending and a record $224 million in economic impact. It was also the highest-rated and most-watched draft ever, attracting more than 47.5 million viewers.
The Cleveland contingent will launch a marketing campaign in an effort to attract fans from other NFL cities to the draft in Northeast Ohio.
Peter John-Baptiste, Browns senior vice president of communications, pointed out there are 13 NFL markets within an eight-hour drive from Cleveland.
"You really want fans from all over the NFL to come," John-Baptiste said on a conference call.
The Browns will also celebrate their 75th anniversary when the draft comes to town.
In a news release, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell touted Cleveland's "passionate fan base" and "distinctive iconic locations and attractions that will bring the NFL Draft experience to fans in unique and exciting ways."
No city has been awarded the 2022 draft yet, but Kansas City, Missouri, will host in 2023.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.