While I’m not one to typically toot the NFL’s horn, they deserve a lot of credit for how they set up Draft Town in Chicago’s Grant Park. There were an estimated 50,000 people in attendance, and everybody really seemed to be enjoying themselves. While the whole set-up was of course a monument to consumerism, the myriad brands were at worst unobtrusive and at best tastefully interactive with their audience.
With great photographs from Chicago Art Institute senior Parker Bright, let’s walk through some of the scenery:
When I envisioned this post in my head, there was going to be heaps of fans dressed to the nines. However, there really weren’t that many inside Draft Town. About half of the attendants had no apparent fan affiliation, and, at any given time, no more than 10-20% of the people were even watching the Draft.
In a strategy that seemed like it would be aimed at causing drunken fights, individual team tents were set up with division rivals all next to each other. Though there were “COWBOYS SUCK” chants and we did encounter one relatively belligerent Giants fan, there were, lamentably from the perspective of TBL page views, no brawls for us to tape. Maybe it was because it was cold — it’s an unscientific fact that people drink way more when it’s nice out — one cop told us at the end of the night that he hadn’t heard of any ejections, let alone arrests.
The beer lines were kinda long, but it’s nevertheless impressive that this trio was averaging more than three beers possessed per person. I can’t even finish one Tall Boy before it goes flat, let alone the double double fist of the Falcons fan on the left. God gives some people all the talent.
As briefly alluded to in the introduction, there were all sorts of interactive brand activities. This one was called a Walter Payton flight simulator, which was a clever enough way to put a Chicago hook on putting people in a raised contraption and blowing them up in the air.
Not sure about what was going on in this virtual reality exhibit, but can’t rule out that Chip Kelly was trying to envision a future with Marcus Mariota. At other booths, you could run the 40-yard-dash against historical Draft entrants, see how far of a field goal you could make (while we were there, I’m not sure if we even saw someone make a 20-yarder), and there were various snack brands giving out samples.
We were somehow able to sidle past security into the VIP section at Selection Square, which was probably the best place to be if you wanted to actually watch the Draft. While we were there, NFL Red Zone host Scott Hanson brought new Jet Leonard Williams onto the stage and interviewed him.
One of the obvious benefits of hosting these festivities in Grant Park is that there are great views of the Chicago skyline at every angle. While some of this splendor was cut off by the giant canopies and tents that were ubiquitous, there were still tremendous views of the city’s architecture.
The Cowboys cheerleaders were there because of course they were.
Autograph signings were a big hit. Richard Dent and Charles Haley were at the booth last night when we were passing by, and there’s a solid collection of former players signing throughout the weekend.
All in all, it was a really enjoyable event. Earlier, I thought it would be a ghost town because it was cold out and a Bulls playoff game was also being played in the evening, but it was well attended and did not wind up being the gouge fest that I expected. If you’re in or around Chicago this weekend, Draft Town is definitely worth checking out.