NFL draft: Cleveland soccer followers have leisure aplenty

CLEVELAND – The FirstEnergy Stadium was as good as empty on Wednesday afternoon. No fans. No soccer players. Just a touch of moisture under the Cleveland sun.

But next Thursday it will be full – um, COVID-19 capacity anyway – and fans will turn into soccer players.

If only for a weekend.

The NFL opened FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday as part of their Draft Experience for football fans. Those participating in the NFL Draft will have the opportunity to throw passes, score field goals, and roam the stadium’s natural grass.

Children can participate in exercises under the guidance of NFL staff. Fans can also watch the design from the seats in the stadium.

The coverage of the jumbotrons in the stands in each end zone will be televised.

The draft starts on Thursday at 5:00 p.m.

“We are very excited. It’s a great privilege to use this field, ”said Nicki Ewell, NFL events director, as he presented the draft experience to reporters on Wednesday morning.

Of course, the Draft Experience, which will be released again in Las Vegas next year, goes beyond the confines of FirstEnergy Stadium.

Football fans can do the 40-yard dash alongside digital renders of Tennessee Titans with Derrick Henry and New York Giants with Saquon Barkley, two of the league’s best and most marketable players.

Train visitors can test their vertical jump and also browse the NFL “locker room”, a tented area displaying memorabilia from a player from all 32 teams. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has featured his jerseys prominently in a glass case that also includes shoulder pads, studs, and a helmet similar to the one he wears on Sundays.

Concessions are available and the tables are securely set up and next to another hill across from the stadium. Each of the three nights ends with a live concert – the Kings of Leon on Thursday, the Black Pumas on Friday, and the Cleveland-born machine gun Kelly on Saturday.

The entire Draft Experience is located next to the NFL Draft Theater on the shores of Lake Erie, where tomorrow’s stars will greet NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is within walking distance, and Ewell said the NFL intends to showcase the landmarks of the cities where the NFL draft is taking place.

“We really pay homage,” she said. “There have been very different iterations of what we’re going to do here in Cleveland, and this is one of the ones we came up with. … We want to make sure we have as much space as possible to receive as many fans as possible. “

The NFL expects up to 50,000 fans to attend design festivals each day. Ewell said FirstEnergy Stadium in particular is the largest Cleveland campus available to the NFL.

Bad weather is a possibility on Thursday nights, but the Draft Experience is structured to work regardless of the conditions.

Ewell said Cleveland’s passionate, loyal fan base was the main reason the NFL decided to bring the draft to Cleveland. The city is unlikely to ever host a Super Bowl, she said, but it’s more than worth hosting the draft and could be an option in the future too.

Brown’s fan or not, there’s something here to appeal to every single fan making their way to FirstEnergy Stadium. The Draft Experience is free, although fans wishing to participate in stadium activities must pre-register using the NFL’s OnePass application.

“The draft is a celebration for all 32 (teams) who are sure to nod the Cleveland Browns and the Dawg Pound,” said Ewell. “But all 32 are here.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. consequences @ BySamGordon on twitter.