'Draft Town' in Grant Park to give fans free NFL experience

CHICAGO -- Chicago is playing host to the NFL Draft this week and Monday the city got its first look inside "Draft Town" in Grant Park where fans will gather.

The NFL Draft is big business, a made-for-television event with huge ratings, and Draft Town will be unlike anything Grant Park has seen before.

"If I hadn't seen it I wouldn't believe it," Jim Mazzolini said. "It's just amazing all the effort they're putting into it."

The scale of it is impressive. The work to get it all done is going non-stop. At eight-stories high, the main tent structure will welcome tens of thousands of football fans coming to Chicago to be part of Thursday's NFL Draft.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing the top draft picks and how this is going to go down this year," Mazzolini said. "It's such a great location. It's right here on the lake. It looks awesome."

The three-day event starts with Round 1 on Thursday. Those who won the ticket lottery will gather at the Auditorium Theatre and just outside at selection square, where the team tables will be located.

Having the draft in Chicago for the first time in 50 years is also giving the NFL the unprecedented opportunity to use Grant Park to offer a first-ever fan fest. These are the team tents where fans can gather to watch the draft and mingle. Fans can run the 40 in a play zone to see how they stack up against NFL's biggest stars.

Chicago Sports Commission Executive Director Kara Bachman recalls a lunch meeting overlooking the park last summer which she believes tipped the odds in Chicago's favor.

"The commissioner has his people on the ground here and they're looking at all of our great venues and how they can make this come to life and what they can create," Bachman said. "Ironically, during this one particular visit, Lollapalooza was being erected and I kind of look at it thinking that was speaking their language."

Covering 900,000-square feet, Draft Town, as it's being called, will be comparable to the NFL Experience fans usually have to pay for at the Super Bowl, except here it will be totally free.

"We have a friendly wager with our NFL friends. We're saying 100,000 people over the three days," Bachman said.

Draft Town will be open to the public Thursday through Saturday and it is expected to be a big money-maker for the city.