Chicago braces for impact of NFL draft on city

By Scott Guthrie and Connor Morgan
Additional Reporting by Nick Kariuki

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed hard to land the 2015 NFL Draft. And now, just weeks after winning a second term in office, he can try to show why.

There will be no shortage of attention on Chicago and the league April 30 through May 2 for their joint experiment.

The city will host the draft for the first time since December 1963 at the then-Sheraton Hotel (now the InterContinental). New York City had held the event since then, but scheduling conflicts at Radio City Music Hall pushed last year’s draft into May and concerned the league.

The previous summer, the Chicago Tribune reported, Emanuel already had pitched NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on securing one of the league’s premier events.

“I would say that there are two things in pro football I would love to see in Chicago, either one of them or both: the NFL draft and the Super Bowl,” Emanuel told the Tribune in February 2014. “They have different advantages given that we have neither one so they would be great attractions for the city to bring national attention.”

With Radio City Music Hall facing another scheduling conflict for 2015, Goodell decided to look for a new place. He narrowed the finalists to Chicago and Los Angeles.

Reportedly, Chicago won, in part, because Emanuel offered a unique spin on the NFL draft, turning it into a dual-site, indoor-outdoor extravaganza, adding a fan festival.

“It’s like its own sporting event,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times. “There’s the Super Bowl. There’s obviously the World Series. There’s the Stanley Cup. There’s the Final Four.

“But this is, because of the audience, this is an equally large-viewing sporting event.”

Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre will serve as the main draft hub the first two days, with a lottery determining the 2,800 free tickets each day.

Draft Town will set up across Michigan Avenue, spanning 900,000 feet from Grant Park to Congress Plaza, and include fan-oriented activities that are open to the public and free. Fans can time their 40-yard dashes, hear the top picks speak, sample local restaurants and more.

On Thursday and Friday evenings, draft selections will be relayed across Michigan Avenue from Draft Town’s “Selection Square” to the Auditorium. On Saturday, Rounds 4-7 will be conducted in Selection Square.

Soon-to be former Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, who represents that area, estimates the draft will attract more than 100,000 people into the city over the three days.

“The event is bringing in teams, reporters, fans of the league,” Fioretti said. “So all of that is going to be a showcase not only of the NFL, but of our great city.”

Fioretti said the draft is exactly what Chicago needs this time of year.

“April and May months are usually slow here,” he said. “We’re just coming out of winter, so this will be a big boost to our economy.”

Or will it?

Robert Baade, a Lake Forest College economics and business professor, said he doesn’t think the NFL Draft will benefit the local economy.

“I can’t imagine that people from all over the country are going to descend on Chicago in numbers sufficiently large to induce something in the way of an economic impact that is statistically significant,” said Baade.

Chicago has not disclosed which of the league’s requests were honored. Attempts to reach Emanuel and Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism organization, were unsuccessful.

“There will be no taxpayer money used,” Don Walsh, Choose Chicago chief operating officer, told the Tribune. “Any responsibility will fall on this organization and the (Chicago) Sports Commission to raise the necessary funds.”

The draft also will impact traffic, with several roads around the event being closed. The Office of Emergency Management and Communications has said to expect delays when driving near Grant Park and suggested using public transportation or taking alternate routes that stay north of Navy Pier or south of West 18th Street. (link to Taylor?)

Even if Chicago nails the draft experience, the event might hit the road again.

Barry Wilner, co-author of the new book, “On The Clock: The Story of the NFL Draft,” said he expects Dallas and AT&T Stadium to land the 2016 draft. Wilner can envision Cowboys owner Jerry Jones trying to lure 60,000 people to “Jerry World.”

For Chicago to get the 2015 draft, Wilner said, Emanuel “basically did a tap dance in front of Roger Goodell.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the draft moved to other cities,” said longtime NFL commentator Howard Balzer, ESPN’s draft expert during the network’s first years of televising the draft. “I would be surprised if they don’t move around.”