Chicago is a must-visit destination for sports fans. Currently, the Blackhawks and Bulls are in the second round of the NHL and NBA Playoffs, respectively. The White Sox and Cubs are in full swing. The Bears are, well, still the Bears.
And for the first time in over 50 years, the NFL Draft has returned to the Windy City.
Walking around Millennium Park, grabbing pizza at Gino's East or having a pint at one of the 7,000 Irish pubs around this city, it is easy to feel the electricity surrounding the Draft. It could be the dynamic that naturally emanates from this great metropolis, or it could simply be the fact that having the Draft in a different city has provided a natural boost to this annual event.
On The Herd with Colin Cowherd Thursday morning, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter said having the Draft in a new city certainly brings a different dynamic.
"It feels like everybody here is fired up about this Draft," said Schefter.
One of the big highlights of the event is Draft Town in Grant Park. Draft Town, which the NFL is touting as the ultimate fan experience, is 900,000 square feet of food, live music, interactive events, a Super Bowl museum, football clinics, a flag football competition, player autographs and more. And the best part: It's free for fans.
Draft Town also has more than 100 screens available for fans to watch the Draft. On paper, it sounds like the perfect place for fans of all 32 NFL teams to get together and revel in the excitement and energy that the Draft provides year after year.
There's only one problem with Draft Town: It's not open when it should be!
Draft Town doesn't open on Thursday – the first day of the Draft – until 4 p.m. And it doesn't open until 4 p.m. on Friday, either.
Jason and I arrived in Chicago on Wednesday, along with many other fans, reporters and athletes hoping to hear their names called this weekend. Thanks to the grace of the Gridiron Gods, we are attending the first round of the Draft Thursday evening, and will be at the doors of Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre right when they open at 5:20.
Needless to say, we woke up Thursday morning practically foaming at the mouths, dying to hang out with fans and be around the game we love so much.
But instead of hanging out at Draft Town all day Thursday (and probably spending hundreds of dollars on Bengals and Raiders merch), we are spending our time and money elsewhere around the city. In fact, due to its late opening, we will only get to experience Draft Town for a total of about an hour because we are leaving Chicago Friday morning. How many others coming to Chicago for only the first round will have the same issue?
To not open Draft Town until 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday seems like a missed opportunity to bring people together and build on the popularity of arguably the biggest crown jewel of the NFL offseason.
So far, it feels like the NFL has gotten a lot of things right about this year's Draft, but the inaccessibility of Draft Town is something the league should address next year.
- AG & JF