The 2016 NFL Draft starts Thursday in Chicago, the second consecutive year the event has taken place in the Bears' home city. This year, there have been some additional programming features attached to Draft Town, the fan festival held downtown in Grant Park, including North American Midway Entertainment's Chance Giant Wheel.
Mike Sievers, North American Midway's director of business development, is supervising the company's operation during the three-day event. All rides are free, said Sievers, who declined to discuss financial terms. The carnival's agreement is with C3, an event promoter from Austin, Texas. The wheel is set up at the north end of Grant Park. Hours of operation are noon to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Draft Town's final day.
The Draft Town deal came about through Siever's existing relationship with C3 tied to some other events.
"We have a reputation for doing these kinds of events," he said. "It's a small world ... and they wanted a Ferris wheel. I've worked with C3 managers at another festival and they reached out to me. The wheel was all they wanted. It's a year to year deal for the draft. We'll see what happens after this year."
If the wheel returns for next year's event, it could be somewhere other than Chicago. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said publicly that there is a strong possibility that the 2017 NFL Draft could move to another city after its two-year run in the Windy City, according to local reports.
For this year's Draft Town, though, show officials expect big crowds at Grant Park. Last year, both the draft at the Auditorium Theatre and Draft Town drew combined attendance estimated at 200,000. The carnival has a six-man crew handling the wheel led by ride foreman Jarrett Starr.
For Draft Town, the wheel is branded with the NFL's iconic shield logo. NAME works with TGI, a Chicago graphics firm, to develop the vinyl decals that adorn the wheel's flat surfaces. The same company helped the carnival brand the wheel for the 2016 NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament at Reliant Park in Houston. The carnival's deal is with Turner Sports for the basketball tournament and is their fourth year providing the wheel at the Final Four.
Rides were also free during the Final Four. "It went well," Sievers said. "We ran full loads from open to close." From Houston, the wheel moved to Chicago for Draft Town.
In addition to those two sports-related events, the attraction is booked for two music festivals, Hangout (May 20-22), along Alabama's gulf shore, and Electric Forest (June 23-26) in Rothbury, Mich. For both those events, the carnival charges $5 admission for rides. The ride has been part of Hangout for the past six years, a beach-side event where attendance is restricted to 35,000. Electric Forest meanwhile, where camping is allowed and the wheel makes its fourth appearance, draws up to 45,000, Sievers said.
Sievers is no stranger to running Ferris wheels at high-profile events apart from the fair circuit. For many years, when Sievers worked for the old Farrow Shows, the carnival booked a wheel at Taste of Chicago, the city's annual food festival at Grant Park. Farrow is now part of North American Midway Entertainment.