***EDITOR'S NOTE: The following piece is authored by a friend of the site, Trev223, who happens to contribute to Philadelphia Phillies SB Nation site The Good Phight. Trev has contributed to BGN multiples times before. Trev is attending the 2015 NFL Draft as a credentialed media member live in Chicago on behalf of BGN. Here's a look at his experience so far.***
The first thing you should know about my draft report is that I came in completely jaded. I expected to take everything as a sort of lackadaisical tourist might, sarcastically rolling my eyes at everything around me that I thought was gimmicky or hokey and just rejecting it as a lot of fluff and show. Turns out that's not a tenable plan at the NFL draft, because when the show is as big as the NFL makes it, it kind of demands your attention, good or bad.
I got off the el at Jackson and began noticing the fanfare pretty much immediately, with banners on flagpoles leading up to Grant Park, the location of "Draft Town," NFL's public draft venue. Grant Park is right along Lake Michigan, and there's a fairly regal feeling walking up Jackson Avenue and coming across an open expanse of water; if anything, the giant RAIDERS banner stifled that feeling, but we'll forgive that. I was getting a bit nervous about what this whole rigmarole would be about until I crested the hill and saw the beginning of the Draft Town amphitheater.
The thing...was big.
And not just it, but also the amphitheater behind that as well.
I'm not sure if it comes through in my pictures or not - it might not - but this thing is gigantic. Think like two city blocks gigantic. Unimaginable, and I wasn't even inside yet.
Getting the credentials was actually really easy, in part because on the Wednesday before the draft, the complex wasn't exactly crowded. There were a couple of events that happened today, but mostly they were of the PR variety - touch football games and drills with local kids ...
... and speeches by the Commissioner, as well as hospital visits and guest appearances. Good stuff, for sure, but not exactly the kind of thing that's going to get you salivating on Draft Eve. There was a half hour of draft prospect interviews, but since Mike Kaye and BGN Radio had done such a good job of laying out the varying prospect responses one could expect, I didn't feel too bad leaving that stone unturned. If any of the potential Eagles fits are drafted and in attendance - Byron Jones, L'ael Collins, Trae Waynes, Devin Smith, Jaelen Strong, and Kevin White would all fit the bill, if not realistic expectations - I'll be there to ask them questions then. But for now, the spectacle was all.
And boy was it; all, that is. I was gawking so aggressively at everything around me that I almost got run over several times by large machines building this massive, free fan-friendly complex.
There's a lot I expected out of this experience, but I didn't expect to feel dwarfed. I described the experience to John Barchard as being a fly on an elephant; the space is so massive, so packed (even on an "off" day) that honestly, once you have your credentials, you could probably go anywhere you want without being noticed. I live in Chicago, and, of course, I feel anonymous fairly often; I've never felt as anonymous as I did in Draft Town. The Shield, my friends, is real.
And so, I want to say two things. One, the whole thing is awfully impressive. The massive outdoor space that the NFL has built is impressive in scale and effort. There's a tent for every team ...
... marketing opportunities ...
... and lots and lots of sponsors. And probably no one except the NFL could festoon their draft with every sponsor from Dannon to Pepsi to Paninis ...
... without getting overshadowed. It's like the moment in Star Wars when Obi Wan says "That's no moon": that's no outdoor draft festival; it's a fully operational corporate brand station.
And I guess that's the second thing to say, is that the whole thing is a little off-putting. There are a million things that people are reporting on about the NFL Draft, from sandwich prices, to the ethics of the draft itself, to the size of Draft Town (see above). So, you'll excuse my dalliance with thinking about spectacle. Fred Jameson in his classic critical text Postmodernism has a famous passage where he describes being utterly thrown off and disoriented by a massive LA hotel. Every time I've read the passage, I've thought "Yeah, okay, maybe this dude was unnerved by a hotel, but that seems dumb." Well, I'm corrected. Draft Town was my LA hotel experience.
I wandered around, dazed and confused, taking in every casual reporter/NFL employee interaction so natural and careless, as if no one was noticing the enormous new building that a corporation we had all gathered to provide free press to was casually bringing together like some sort of metaphor for suburban sprawl. But of course everyone noticed it. There were literal models of football fields leading up to a massive countdown clock and huge big screens that will, ostensibly, be broadcasting the draft live to however many fans. Everyone stands around at the football drills watching the kids play while behind them, construction equipment puts together a paper city that's going to be torn down in, oh, 72 hours or so. It's unreal.
But it's also totally real. Because the reason the NFL can do this - the reason they have all the buzz about a pre-preseason event, all the free advertising, all the credentials that even a schlub like ol' Trev can get - is because they are massively profitable. As a company, that is, but also the spectacle itself is profitable. Every team has a merch tent, every Panini is marked up, and every Miller Lite sponsored Miller Lite Draft Break Tent is raking in money for Miller and for the NFL. And there's not anything exceptionally wrong about that, my own political leanings notwithstanding. But behind every spectacular veneer is the fact that the NFL is a company that has a lot of pretty controversial problems on its plate.
Domestic abuse, concussions, prospects accused of rape, labor issues - the NFL is embroiled in all of these issues and more. But what we see at Draft Town is Play60 and the kind of edifice that proves the league could buy and sell each and every one of us. And those are two very contradictory images: one a sort of aggressive appeal to youth health, and the other a tacit admission of dominance. And these contradictions are all wrapped up, right there, in Draft Town, dwarfing each and every one of the reporters casually making small talk.
And even after all of this, even after all of this critique, I loved it. I loved all of it. I loved looking up like a bumpkin at this big ol football town. And maybe I'll get over my awe and write something more bombastic, funnier, more exciting for tomorrow. Hopefully! But there's an awe and a terror in Draft Town I really wasn't prepared for. I couldn't bury the lede that far.
I was hoping for spectacle when I started this process, though, and the NFL was ready to provide that. As one of the league folks quipped of the sunny day shining down beatifically on the two hand touch field, "When the NFL asks, even the weather listens."
You almost start to believe it.
***Stay tuned for more coverage from Trev.***