2021 NFL Draft: NFL, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, Browns community engagement virtual press conference (4.21.21)
David Gilbert, President & CEO, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland
Anna Isaacson, Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility, NFL
Renee Harvey, Vice President, Cleveland Browns Foundation
Jenner Tekancic, Vice President of Community Relations, Cleveland Browns
Rachael Stentz-Baugher, Vice President of Administration & Development, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission
Gilbert: “Good morning everybody. Eight days until the draft. Looking outside right now at about four inches of snow, but the long-range forecast is looking good for next week, thankfully.
“Ever since we have been awarded the draft – even quite frankly when we were looking to bid on the draft – we have talked a lot about the impact, and what we focus on most is the economic impact, which even in this pandemic year is still going to be tremendous, and the fact that Cleveland will be highlighted in an enormous way to probably between 45-50 million viewers around the country and around the world. What we are going to hear about today is something that quite frankly we take maybe even more pride in than those two impacts and really has become a hallmark of how Cleveland views and manages the major events and even sometimes the smaller events that we host – how we plan way ahead of time to use these major events, the draft in particular, as a platform for community change and legacy. Obviously, there is so much planning that goes into an enormous event like the NFL Draft, but I could tell you, so many of these things being done on top are extra efforts that are going to be so well worth it for our community.
“Another great hallmark of Cleveland and how we host these events are the incredible partnerships in which we do it. Certainly, we have an amazing partnership with the NFL from Day 1 in how this draft has come together in Cleveland, but also locally, the partnership with the Browns, the (Greater Cleveland) Sports Commission, Destination Cleveland, the City of Cleveland, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and many others. Some you are going to hear from today, but it really is how we are able to pull these things off the way we are. You will hear today from a lot of those partners and learn about how the efforts around the draft will leave a legacy in our community – a legacy for youth, a legacy around diversity and inclusion specifically the exciting Cleveland Power of Sport Summit and other really important social responsibilities.
“The last thing I would say is these are the kinds of things that make Cleveland year in and year out one of the best cities and most important cities in the country for hosting major events.”
Isaacson: “We are excited to be in Cleveland for next week’s draft. As a league, it is always important for us to leave a community legacy, as you noted, in every host city we have visited, but this year, we find ourselves in unprecedented times. Last year, we were forced to shift to a fully virtual format for the draft. While we could not use our usual in-person engagement events, we launched something that we called ‘Draft-A-Thon,’ which was and became a massive three-day fundraiser that raised millions for COVID relief efforts.
“Now, we find ourselves a year later, and we have the benefit of combining the best of all things. We will again host Draft-A-Thon as a digital streaming experience during the draft, and we will be on the ground in Cleveland next week with the ability to provide direct support to the communities who we know have persevered through so much this past year. All at the same time, of course, while following CDC and local health guidelines.
“Draft-A-Thon has four key focus areas this year, and they are all at the intersection of pandemic recovery and our most underserved communities. We know these communities were hit so hard by COVID-19 so we are going to focus on bridging health disparities, the digital divide in education, mental health and food insecurity. There will be a live stream across digital and social platforms that you will be able to find across all digital platforms, but specifically at NFL.com/DraftAThon. We will educate fans on these issues that I just referenced. We will hear from players, we will hear from celebrities and hopefully, we will raise some money for four beneficiaries that we have identified: The Education Trust, Mental Health America, the CDC Foundation and Feeding America.
“Draft-A-Thon will come to life also through the television broadcast. When you are actually watching the draft, you will learn and hear about Draft-A-Thon. You will see special community guests making picks live from Cleveland, and the four Draft-A-Thon themes will be threaded across the live and virtual community events that are going to take place all of next week. I know the Browns, Jenner and Renee will detail some more about the activities that we are working on together and that they have been leading the way on. These will include a digital divide event. We will be working with the Legal Aid Society and the Cleveland Public Library. We have a virtual mental health lesson for high school students, which we know is just critically important at this time. We will also be hosting an event right across from [FirstEnergy Stadium] with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
“We are excited. The draft in general is always about hope and promise for every team, all 32. We know there are going to be great football storylines next week, but I would say and as we always believe here at the NFL, even just as important, there will be real impact made across this great football city in Cleveland. We look forward to seeing that come to life over the next few days.
Harvey: “Good morning, everyone. Appreciate everyone joining today. Also, really appreciate the opportunity to showcase some of the great work that we do locally and in partnership with the NFL and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
“The Cleveland Browns Foundation is the philanthropic arm of what we call ‘Browns Give Back,’ which our overarching community platform that focuses on education, youth football and volunteerism. I would also say that we have done work for a very long time that we would also say is social justice related, as well. You will hear about a few of those things from me, as well as Jenner, who will be coming up next.
“Our primary focus for the Browns Foundation is really on education. We believe that education is vital and that every child deserves access to a high-quality education. In order to receive that opportunity, we really need to make sure that kids are attending school and that they are there every day. I am excited that next week during the draft that we will be able to profile some of the great partnerships that we have through our Stay in the Game network. That network was launched in August of 2019, and it is an initiative that we have in partnership with the Ohio Department of Education, as well as Proving Ground out of Harvard. We have a two-goal initiative – that is No. 1 to increase attendance for all students; and secondly, to reduce barriers for students living in poverty. Many of the topics and focus areas that Anna just mentioned for the Draft-A-Thon are certainly challenges that many of our students who we are trying to focus on and support are addressing and dealing with on a daily basis.
“Obviously through the pandemic, our districts, families and students have encountered a lot of challenges. We are really excited that our players, coaches, ownership and the NFL Foundation have supported digital divide efforts here locally with East Cleveland, which is the fourth-poorest community in the country. For those of you who live here, you probably know that Cleveland is least [digitally] connected city in the country. That collection was $350,000 that went to East Cleveland City Schools to support improved bandwidth for internet, hotspots and Chromebook devices, making sure that our students have the opportunity to connect and continue their education. Also, we were able to support Maple Heights School District, which is another one of our partner districts through the network, as well.
“The Stay in the Game initiative will be featured during the Power of Sport Summit, which I believe will be discussed in greater detail later. Looking forward to sharing more with you in a moment.”
Tekancic: “Good morning, everyone. It is great to see everyone, and I would like to thank everyone who is joining on the panel today. It has been such an amazing collaboration. When we first learned that the draft was coming to Cleveland, all of our phones were ringing, and we were talking to each other to see what we could do and how we could make [the] Cleveland [draft] extra special. Obviously, we are looking to do that through the community efforts we are all speaking of today.
“Through our leadership and with ownership, we have really been committed to our Browns Give Back platform, beginning with education, youth football our First and Ten volunteer movement and social justice, as Renee had mentioned. What we are really excited to be offering and bringing to fans are some opportunities to educate yourselves on the game of football. We are all here for the draft because football unites us all and in one way shape or form, brings together people of all ages, and we will have programming to unite everyone.
“Beginning on Tuesday from a youth football perspective, we will be hosting a town hall. This town hall is to share information about some recent programs. We just launched a high school girls flag football program in Lake County. We will have some guests that will be joining us at the town hall to share how that happened. We will also have some local coaches who have implemented our Rookie Tackle program to share with the parents and different facilitators on how maybe they can do that in their local area. What will make this part of the town hall really unique is that we are bringing together (Vice President, Football Development at National Football League) Roman Oben and (Senior Advisor of NFLPA) LeCharles Bentley. I think we all remember they were with the team for a period of time earlier when the team returned to Cleveland in 1999. We are going to have them join us for a discussion about what sports means to them and how to engage youth. We are hoping everyone will tune in and walk away with some really meaningful dialogue and inspire everyone to join the effort and advance the game of football.
“Without further ado, as well, I know we have all talked about field project. All of you have been out of there to cover it one time or another. In five years, we will be announcing that we are installing the 10th field this year at Shaw High School. In East Cleveland, we will be going and breaking ground on Friday. We will be joining the East Cleveland and some of the educators that Renee has mentioned and she has worked with on the digital divide, and it will be a really special moment in time. We hope you will all join us, and that is on Friday (April 30).
“From there, we have talked about youth football and we have talked about education, but we also have the opportunity to really inspire our fans through our First and Ten volunteer movement. We have been talking about this for a long time. We have engaged and inspired nearly three millions hours of community service through our First and Ten platform, which is a simple call to action to give ten hours [of volunteering each year] and help your community. At the NFL Draft Experience, while kids are coming in and participating in some clinics and there are other activations from the NFL, we will be talking with fans about how they too can make Cleveland a better place through the First and Ten movement. That will be on display, as well – our First and Ten and volunteers from our staff – as we go join the NFL at the [Greater Cleveland] Food Bank on Tuesday from the Muni Lot for a big distribution to help make sure that the families in our local area have the food and the necessities that they need heading into the NFL Draft.
“Finally, the Power of Sport Summit. I believe you are all aware of it, but this is a really unique, authentic, once-in-a-lifetime program that we are offering to the region, and it will also be in a digital format for anybody who cannot be part of the programming to take part in it. One of the unique things, we have all heard from a social justice standpoint, is the Cleveland 3 Team Alliance. We joined with the Cavs and the Indians to form the 3 Team Alliance and join with each other on core focus areas. The 3 Team Alliance will be present. We are brining together some teenagers and law enforcement for conversations for change as one of the many panels that will be offered during the Summit. That [panel] will be on Friday (April 30), as well, and the Summit is open free for all.
Stentz-Baugher: “Hey, everyone. Thank you, Jenner. I am Vice President of Administration & Development with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. Thanks for being here and thanks for having me.
“As noted, I am here to talk about the Cleveland Power of Sport Summit. The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission under the fundraising umbrella of Velocity, which is a community-wide initiative of the Sports Commission to support and maximize the effect of major sporting events in Cleveland, has created the Cleveland Power of Sport Summit. The Summit is a three-day festival that is focused on the power of sport as a catalyst for change. We have five specific pillars and focus area. Those are mental health for athletes, LGBTQIA initiatives, racial equity, gender equity and [adaptive sports].
“We are very excited to host this event at Progressive Field. It is a free public event that is taking place Thursday, Friday and Saturday – the same days as the draft. Within the Power of Sport Summit, there are five key areas that you should be aware of. One is the Community Corner. This is an area where local organizations are invited to have a traditional tabling opportunity where they can promote their resources and provide information to our attendees. These folks are primarily in the DE&I space in Cleveland. We also have workshops that are being offered free of charge. There are five different workshops – four of them are onsite and one of them is virtual. These workshops are again all around on diversity, equality and inclusion. For example, one is about coded language in sports and how to create a more inclusive culture around language that we use in sports. That is just one example, but there really is something for everyone in terms of what we have to offer for the workshops. We also have demos and exhibits. These will be up and live throughout the weekend. With the Achievement Centers [for Children] and the Browns, we will have a demonstration of adapted football and other adaptive sports. Adaptive Sports Ohio will be there with a demonstration of adapted basketball, along with the Wheelchair Cavs. We also have the Champions for Change exhibit from RISE that really focuses on racial and gender equity through sports over the timeline continuum, which is a really fantastic experience to enjoy. We have the digital learning lounge, which as indicated, is an area on our website where you can access either from the Summit itself within our physical digital learning lounge and it also is online on our website now. If you want to go there and see the content that we have available, we have that content in the categories I mentioned. You can click and see various digital and online resources associated with those through the digital learning lounge. Finally is the equality lounge. The equality lounge is a physical space in which there are 18 different panel discussions taking place. The conversations, as Jenner mentioned, range from conversations for change from the CL3 Alliance, to Stay in the Game from the Cleveland Browns to mental health for athletes, creating an inclusive sports culture and how to #BeTheSolution in Cleveland. There are so many different panel discussions and topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Everyone is invited to come, participate and see how they can be part of the answer to the questions that exist in our society right now.
“Registration is requested in advance. You can do that through our website. You also can register onsite right at the gate. We look forward to seeing you, and we look forward to the opportunity to providing this wonderful event during the NFL Draft.”
On the sense of pride that Cleveland will have hosting an event taking the word back to some sense of normalcy and the socially impactful events related to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Gilbert: “Thanks for the question. It is definitely interesting because as you said, when we have been tracking this and going to lots of other drafts prior and imagining what it would be in Cleveland, we were seeing throngs of people elbow to elbow, and that certainly is not going to happen. I think there are a couple of really important things quite frankly that overcome that. One, we are trending better and better in terms of the overall crowds that can be at the draft and the numbers of people from Cleveland and out of town who are going to be here are still going to leave an enormous impact financially. The draft will still be watched by tens and tens and tens of millions of people around the country. You hit on a couple of important points: one is what we are talking about today. I think that it elevates the importance even more of all of the things we have been working to do to use the draft as a platform and to leave a much longer and lasting legacy on the community. The other thing that has become very apparent is the relative impact of the draft on our local community, based on the fact that we are at this really interesting inflection point of just coming out of COVID-19. Think about it, this would have been even eight weeks ago or 10 weeks ago, we may have not have this live and in-person or it would have been a fraction. The hotels, the restaurants, downtown and the businesses that have been so incredibly impacted by COVID, this event will have an outsized importance for them from an economic standpoint than it might otherwise have been. We have heard from some that have said that this is what they have been hoping for to keep them hanging on onto the other side of COVID. It is interesting in many ways. I think the glass is in many ways maybe fuller than it otherwise would have been, and we are thrilled about it.”
On the financial results and how many people will be impacted by the community initiatives surrounding the draft:
Gilbert: “It is hard to put a quantitative dollar sign on it, and quite frankly, that is not why we do it. Interestingly enough, we look at impact of events, and we know the minute an event is awarded to Cleveland of any size, the economic impact is going to be there. Obviously, this one is a little different with the pandemic and changed more than other years in the past, but most of the time, you have a strong sense from the very beginning of the number of people who ought to be traveling from out of market and the kinds of spending and economic impact. We look at also what are the qualitative impact that we can have. While you can’t necessarily put a dollar figure on them, oftentimes, they are the most important and the most lasting. I am thinking about the fields that the Browns are laying down. That is going to be something that will be here for years and years and years. Think about just so many of the different things that the NFL is going to be doing of recycled materials, planting trees and you can go on and on. Those things are going to be legacies that maybe do not have a quantitative effect, but qualitatively will be here in some cases for generations, let alone the opportunity, especially in this really interesting time that we are in now of social and political change, it is something that I think we know what the impact is going to be from a qualitative standpoint and are incredibly proud of it, even in that part we can’t put a specific dollar amount to it.”
On how the Greater Sports Commission is measuring the impact of programs like the Cleveland Power of Sport Summit:
Stentz-Baugher: “I think it is a little bit difficult to measure social impact and to measure change of heart of the way that people feel, but what I can say is that the Cleveland Power of Sport Summit will give people an opportunity to talk and to interact with one another. It will also give people an opportunity to learn something new and learn something different. We are hoping from this that people will want to enact positive change in their community. There are multiple opportunities for folks to reflect while they are onsite. We have a reflection wall. We have a couple of different pledges that folks can take and post on social media. Although those things sounds somewhat trite, I think the point is to try to encourage people to really think about who they are in society, what they contribute to society and how they can improve that. The other thing that is very valuable and an indicator of success is the level of involvement that we have had from the community. We have had a really great response from organizations all around the community to be involved in the community corners, to serve as panelists in the equality lounge and others. Everyone is doing it for free. Everyone is jumping in, supporting and providing information to the community at no charge so we really appreciate that, and I think that shows that there is a hunger for these conversations and for this content in the community.”
Gilbert: “If there is one more thing I can add – it is just something that I think we touched on a little bit – I think it is also important to note that it has been told to us by groups that continue to choose Cleveland to host major events that the way we go about this and the kind of thought we put it to our community programming is part of the reason we continue to get chosen for major events. It kind of goes back a little bit to the question about the economics of [community programming] that again, that is one that we do not know right now, but it continues to have and it will have an incredibly long-lasting effect.”
On how the NFL Draft community engagement compares to the NBA Finals:
Gilbert: “It is hard to compare one league and another and one time for another, but I will say that we are also working now on gearing up for the NBA All-Star game in 2022. It really is very heartening from our perspective to see the way the NFL and I would also say the NBA because they both have such a similar mindset of going into these events looking at how they can maximize the impact on the community. They know when they choose, the NFL, they probably could stop by saying, ‘Hey, we have awarded this event to Cleveland. Lots of people are coming, there is the economic impact.’ If we look at all of the programs that they have institutionalized that early on they have come to Cleveland and I am sure other host communities saying, ‘How can we work together to maximize these impacts?’ It really is amazing to us, and quite frankly, helps inspire us to up our game and try to have all of our community partners work together to make one plus one equal a lot more than two.”
On where will the high school girls flag football program be held and when the Shaw High School field ceremony will occur:
Tekancic: “The girls flag football program, it launched this spring so it is at the end of its season right now, but the people who lead it, the individuals who are leading it from the Northeast Ohio Flag Football program, they will be presenting at the (Play Football) Town Hall, which is on Tuesday (April 27) at 6 p.m. at St. Ignatius High School. There will be members there who can answer any questions you may have to get the week started and go from there. We also have the Rookie Tackle Showcase, which is about the football development model that takes flag football, the rookie tackle and 11-man. That will be Saturday (May 1) at noon at St. Ignatius High School as well. The field dedication is going to take place at Shaw Stadium at 1 p.m. on Friday (April 30).”
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