Crystin Immel is an Assistant Producer and the assignment desk editor for Chicago Tonight. She’s also a big NFL fan. We thought it would be fun to send her to the NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre to see the draft through her eyes.
The picks are all in, and after three days of festivities and thousands of fans pouring into Grant Park, the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago has concluded. I made my way to Draft Town Saturday and experienced it from a fan’s perspective. Eating the food, checking out the sites, and waiting in the lines. So, while analysts are busy grading the NFL teams’ draft picks, I’m grading the NFL on the overall fan experience they provided in Grant Park. Here are the grades:
Food and Drink
Let’s be frank. The NFL can shower us with free items we don’t need and parade as many professional athletes as they want in front of us, but if there isn’t access to quality and affordable food then I’m not staying. I need a good burger, especially when it’s the hottest day of the spring and my strength is waning fast. The NFL performed well on this front. There was ample access to food and beverages throughout Draft Town and the prices were pretty reasonable ($6 for a double cheeseburger). Bonus: I only had to wait in line all of 30 seconds! Another perk: no wait for restrooms. The Cubs could pick up a few tips from the NFL on this point. Grade: A-
In case you didn’t know before walking into Draft Town, the NFL has a lot of money. To quote Jurassic Park, the NFL “spared no expense,” except this time there wasn’t a massive T-Rex breaking through Grant Park and spoiling the party. The NFL put together goodie bags with some NFL material and items from the sponsors for fans with tickets inside Auditorium Theatre and Selection Square. Inside Draft Town, there were booths set up for sponsors like Verizon, Skittles, and Mountain Dew to distribute (and sell) their wares. It was kind of disgusting to see so much consumerism in such a beautiful park, but it's certainly not the first time (think Lollapalooza). However, the fans I talked to wished they had even more items available. Another downer was I didn’t see anyone shooting apparel from a T-shirt gun. Grade: B
So you load up the minivan and take your kids to Draft Town. After fighting traffic and finding parking, you’re pretty exhausted. Then you have to listen to the kids whine about sitting around and watching football all day. Wrong! The NFL did a great job reaching out to their future audience as part of Draft Town. They had flag football clinics to teach kids about the sport’s fundamentals. They had an obstacle course, an area for kids to race their friends in the 40-yard dash, test their vertical jump, and try to kick an extra point. Overall, the kids were all smiles and sheerly exhausted after. The best part about taking the kids to the draft? The cost. Besides food and drink, the draft activities were free to fans. Grade: A
The Second City as a host was second to none. I may be slightly biased because I’ve lived here for the last six years...and I’ve never attended the draft in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. But it all came together for Chicago on this one. The weather, the green space, the skyline, and Buckingham Fountain provided a gorgeous backdrop for the festivities. As one out of town fan said to me, “you can’t beat that view.” The attitude of Chicago Bears fans I met was top notch, with many fans wanting the draft to return to Chicago. Also, a big shout out to the volunteers for their work as hosts representing the city. They were always helpful and had great attitudes even if they were stuck for hours holding and retrieving footballs for kids to try kicking an extra point. Grade: A
After entering Grant Park, the first thing you see is a giant tent that is Selection Square. You walk further in and you pass the NFL shop, sponsor booths, autograph-signing tables, and then you’re by the NFL fan tents. These tents had team memorabilia, but were basically a hangout for fans. They could’ve been a little more enticing to go into and encourage fans to stick around for a while. Instead, I walked in, felt underwhelmed, and walked back out. It seemed at times like the NFL had more space in Grant Park than they knew what to do with. I think they could’ve spaced more of the sponsor booths farther into Grant Park so fans didn’t get so bottlenecked (and run over by strollers) trying to get through. Also, unless I missed them, I could only find two maps of the layout available for fans looking for something specific. Grade: B-
Overall Grade: F
“F” is for Fantastic. Covering the draft all three days was a dream for any NFL fan. I was able to enjoy all three stages of fan experiences: from Day 1 inside Auditorium Theatre to Day 2 covering Selection Square to Day 3 experiencing Draft Town as a fan. The NFL succeeded in appealing to both novice fans and superfans alike. Walking through the crowd, you can tell that football is a part of this city and the Midwest; it was great seeing fans celebrate that connection. I saw fans from all 32 NFL teams representing their franchises. I think the NFL found something special with the change of scenery in Chicago. So while I hope we see the draft return to Chicago next year, I also hope this means the NFL will continue to go on the road and bring the overall experience to more fans in more cities. And who knows, maybe my bosses will send me on the road next year for draft coverage again. My fingers are crossed for Green Bay, Wis.
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