NFL draft festivities in Chicago will incorporate Grant Park

It won't be long now. The extravaganza is just around the corner.

With the NFL draft eight weeks away, the league continues to nail down logistics for an event that vows to enliven the city with a flurry of bells and whistles.


League officials met this week in Chicago with representatives from ESPN, the NFL Network and other draft partners to continue coordinating their efforts. Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's senior vice president of events, has taken a lead role in the planning and has little problem advertising this year's draft as "a three-ring circus."

"I like that term in the most positive sense," O'Reilly told the Tribune. "This will be a great experience for fans on site. … The element where you have something going on everywhere, with the draft as a backdrop, will create great energy across the entire area."

The league's vision for a three-pronged spectacle from April 30 to May 2 includes the draft's traditional theater experience, with much of the action inside the Auditorium Theatre. In addition, the NFL has designated Grant Park as another hub of activity.

At Draft Town, which will spread from Grant Park to Congress Plaza, attendees will be able to experience interactive games, flag football competitions and autograph sessions.

Meanwhile in Selection Square, directly across Michigan Avenue from the theater, O'Reilly confirmed all 32 franchises will have representatives stationed at official team tables to relay picks to league authorities, who will pass on the information to the Auditorium Theatre.

"That core (aspect) of the draft, for fans in the park there to be able to look in on that and experience that is neat," O'Reilly said. "We wanted more people to see that."

There are also plans to light up Buckingham Fountain in the colors of the team currently on the clock. And drafted players invited to Chicago for the event will make their way to the ESPN and NFL Network sets in Grant Park once they're finished with their theater obligations.

With limited seating available — the league is estimating a capacity of 3,000 theater attendees — the draft's expansion into the surrounding park environment will open the experience to a wider audience.

"Now as you see those plans come to life and start to visualize what all those fans can experience ... and how we can use the elements of the park, it's starting to become real," O'Reilly said.

The league plans to announce details next week on how tickets to the draft festivities will be distributed. Admission to the three-day event at each of the circus' three rings will be free.

Twitter @danwiederer