I visited the NFL’s temporary Draft headquarters this past Saturday and I went into NFL Draft Town thinking this is all about football. And was quickly disappointed and then it hit me.
The NFL is evolving, so this is about entertainment. And this is an interactive show for the fans that features football but also a complete entertainment experience.
Then I was quickly enjoying and really taking in all that was around me.
So I walked into Draft Town and you see a the impressive partially enclosed “Selection Stage” and basically viewing area for the NFL Draft. Inside (which was by ticket only via a “draft” last month), was the stage and seating area to watch the draft and two NFL Network personalities (Chris Rose & Marshall Faulk), handling the live NFL draft discussion. But there was plenty of space for us regular fans to watch and listen to the ongoing conversation. The hosts were engaging, informed and kept everything moving, well produced and I could have stood there all afternoon.
Then there was another partially enclosed area just to the east (granted this is all on what is normally Congress Parkway), and there was the NFL Hall of Fame representatives, many Chicago Bears memorabilia and lots of Bears Hall of Fame artifacts and interactive displays.
Even more impressive was the overheard “scoreboard and screen” which kept you up to date with a live feed of the NFL Draft via NFL Network. There were all kinds of statistics listed up there and a impressive sound system. It was what you would find in a state of the art football stadium yet in the nicest temporary structure you will ever see.
In between the temporary buildings was a much smaller one that housed the NFL shop and at least an hour line to get in.
I can’t stress enough that security was tight but not oppressive. Chicago Police, NFL security, private security and who knows how many undercover reps were all over to keep everything safe.
Once you kept heading east towards Columbus Street were the “NFL Offices” up and down Columbus in slightly smaller tents for all 32 NFL teams and those were “viewing areas ” for fans. A TV was in there (of course with live draft coverage), and team memorabilia. You could see like minded fans wearing their teams colors gathered and talking and enjoying themselves in their teams atmosphere.
And yes there was food, not a lot but pretty good and yes pretty expensive. The sandwiches included a double cheeseburger (somewhat greasy as my wife described it), a decent beef sandwich (but not like the local great beef place Buona), and okay curly fries. That costs $ 21.00 but was payable by debit card with tablets that the food vendors had. But the Italian Ice was by Franconi’s on 31st Street from the south side that was awesome, $ 4.00 a cup and its your best friend on a warm day at a street fest.
There was also the very entertaining “Sweetness Simulator”, basically what you might experience at a indoor skydiving place (or NASA training), with a high powered fan blowing high pressure air up and people can go (after signing waivers), and with a professional literally fly in this en caged simulator. You have to see it to see what I mean but the people who went (not me), seemed to have a great time.
Also part of the experience was a whole section to the south on Columbus of activities just like a the NFL Scouting Combine to test strength and agility. There were jumping tests, see if you can kick a field goal and other tests of physcial metrics.
This was at the NFL might say a “total fan experience”, picture opportunities, autograph sessions with NFL greats, it allowed you to get close to the game. But it was so much more than the game.
The financial influences of this event could be seen throughout downtown (advertisements everywhere), fans representing many NFL teams (especially Pittsburgh Steelers), and even in Macy’s on State Street (it will always be Marshall Fields to me), the cosmetic counter workers wore shirts from the “official cologne sponsor” of the NFL. And on top of that they were handing out samples on State Street.
I think what we learned from this even is that the NFL has far reaching financial reach and Chicago can successfully host a world class event and the NFL just showed us how.
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