Draft Town opening night: was it worth the visit?

By Hannah Beery, video by Courtney Dillard and Lukas Voss

NFL fans donned their teams’ hats, scarves, gloves and jackets on an unusually chilly late April Thursday to take part in the inaugural Draft Town festivities in Grant Park, and they only had two complaints: long lines and no sound system.

After all, why would the NFL think thousands of people would want to actually hear first round draft picks as they happen?

“What? I can’t hear you!”

“Who is this guy?!”

“Would a speaker or two have killed you?”

A choir of unhappy fan exclamations was heard throughout crowd, as the first pick of the draft was nearly inaudible. When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick, Jameis Winston, fans were forced to use their eyes and not their ears.

“The sound system sucks. A couple of speakers would have been nice out here, too,” said Chris Straney, a Chicago native.

Draft Town has an autograph stage, a kid-friendly activity area, a Super Bowl ring exhibit and large bar called the Draft Tavern. There is even a sky dive simulator, The Sweetness Simulator, which is supposed to honor the late Chicago Bear running back Walter Payton. In the luck of the draw, 1,000 lottery winners got to sit inside the Selection Square behind the tables from where all 32 teams made their first round selections.

Straney described the event as a “really good experience” for him and his 3-year-old son, saying the entire event impressed him.

Despite the low temperatures, some fans stood more than an hour to participate in their favorite attractions.

“It’s a lot of waiting, but it’s so exciting,” said Chicago suburban resident Dylan Skytte. “I waited in line for an hour for the Oculus Simulator. It’s where you put the goggles on and you look around like you’re on the field.

DePaul University students Kyle Picchy and Mike Baylian admitted that they spent “more time in line than anything else,” as they waited in their third line of the evening, this time for an autograph from former Seahawks safety Kenny Easley.

The family-friendly atmosphere allowed fans the chance to get up close and personal with the draft experience, something that has hasn’t been possible at previous drafts. Expectations varied but many fans had none at all.

“I had zero expectations, but it’s a lot less ‘wild’ than I thought,” said Chicagoan Laine Harper. “I thought it was going to be like Lollapalooza or Taste of Chicago.”

For fans that did not attend on Thursday, Draft Town will be open Friday 4-10 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., for rounds 2 through 7.