After a 51-year run of being hosted in New York City, the NFL broke with tradition and held the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago. Though the draft event itself was a tickets-only affair, Chicago made use of Grant Park to create an interactive event called Draft Town for locals and dedicated fans.
Drawing over 200,000 people in a matter of three days, Draft Town, which spanned a space equivalent to 15 football fields, provided fans with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the draft process free of charge. Though first and second-round picks were made in Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater, the picks of the last three round were made outside at Selection Square, where all 32 teams had tables set up ready to make picks on the draft’s final day. Fans were able to enter a raffle and be randomly selected to sit in that square and watch the selections unfold live.
Draft Town televised the draft live on suspended, theater-sized screens throughout Grant Park and also provided fans of all ages with an array of hands-on experiences to tide fans over between picks such as a vertical jump, a timed 40-meter dash and field goal kicking.
NFL.com also advertised the opportunity for fans to have their picture taken with the Lombardi trophy, see all 49 Super Bowl Rings, meet current players, hang out in their team’s tent, eat, drink and listen to live music.
Some fans felt Draft Town was an inclusive, family-friendly environment that even non-NFL junkies could appreciate, while others, like Tony Secor, an Oakland Raiders fan who flew to Chicago to attend the draft, felt it was designed more for committed fans wanting to watch the draft.
“[Draft Town] is more for if you’re actually into the draft and if you care about what’s happening,” Secor said. “We’ve been to both [Selection Square and Draft Town] this weekend and we actually got to boo Roger Goodell, which was awesome … it’s all pretty fun regardless.”
While most Draft Town attendees were unable to score tickets to Selection Square or the Auditorium Theater, some of the NFL’s youngest fans were still able to make memories via a number of football workshops offered throughout the course of the week.
Despite the masses who swarmed Grant Park (and the hefty quantity of alcohol consumed), Draft Town was a space where team rivalries were, temporarily, put to the side to experience a sporting event typically inaccessible to fans. Even the most dedicated fans — ones with intricate and eye-catching costumes like St. Louis Rams heads and height-defying wigs — joined together for photo ops when they should have been taunting one another.
Green Bay Packers fan Melissa Maffiola and Chicago Bears fan Katie Bonifazi support rival teams, but believe the system they have in place to maintain a smooth relationship during football season was present throughout Draft Town this weekend.
“We just don’t trash talk each other, that’s our rule,” Bonifazi said.
“That’s the cool thing we’ve noticed. Fans of teams that you’d expect to start fights with one another are hanging out in one space kind of harmoniously. I would have never expected that coming to [Draft Town,] but I can’t say it doesn’t help make this year’s Draft more enjoyable.”