The NFL is bringing back an in-person draft experience after the 2020 edition went virtual over Zoom.
At-home storylines like Bill Belichick’s dog sitting at the computer gave fans plenty to talk about last year, but nothing quite compares to hearing roars from the crowd in front of the draft theater stage -- familiar sights and sounds that make their return at the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, thanks to a vaccinated fan-viewing area.
Here are some of the biggest questions about the draft away from the gridiron and how the event could set a precedent for other live events with large crowds:
How many fans will be allowed at the 2021 NFL Draft?
The NFL announced it is expecting 50,000 fans and that it is confident in its protocols after staging the Super Bowl Experience in Tampa Bay this past February.
Is the NFL Draft Experience free to attend? How do you get tickets to the 2021 NFL Draft?
Tickets for the NFL Draft Experience are free and available through the NFL OnePass app. Adults can reserve tickets for up to two adults and five minors per transaction, with a one-session maximum and one transaction per fan. Tickets are only good for one day and each day has three sessions.
Pre-selected fans will have the chance to attend a vaccinated fan-viewing area in front of the draft theater next to FirstEnergy Stadium and the NFL Draft Experience. Fans will also have a chance to watch the draft inside FirstEnergy Stadium during the night sessions on Thursday and Friday.
What will fan experience at events be like post COVID-19?
The American and global sports landscapes have seen varying approaches to attendance.
The Atlanta Braves announced that they will become the first MLB team to allow full capacity on a full-time basis starting May 7. The Texas Rangers permitted 100 percent attendance for their home opener on April 5 but scaled back that figure for home games since.
While fans have been allowed to attend games at all 30 MLB stadiums to begin the 2021 season, there are still a handful of NBA and NHL venues that remain empty. The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder are without fans at home games in the NBA. In the NHL, all seven Canadian teams have yet to allow fans in attendance. Up until this point the Bulls and Blackhawks were unable to have fans, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot has announced that the United Center will be able to welcome back fans into the building.
Elsewhere in the sports world, this weekend’s Kentucky Derby is slated to feature 40-50 percent attendance. The Tokyo Olympics, meanwhile, have barred fans from abroad, and Japanese residents with tickets to the games may not know if they can attend until just weeks ahead of time.
Beyond the sports world, the Academy Awards were held at Union Station with attendees rotating in and out to reduce the number of people gathered at one time. Disney World, meanwhile, has been open at 35 percent capacity and will have a path to increasing that number after Orange County in Florida announced its “Phase 1” guidelines.
The CDC also eased its mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans, who no longer have to wear masks outdoors unless they are in a large crowd of strangers. That, along with a large gathering like the 2021 NFL Draft, combine to show a glimpse of what summer events could take place in 2021. Maybe there will be live music in the air at Wrigley Field before the Fourth of July.