Both Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech and the 2015 NFL draft were huge successes for the civic spirit of the City of Big Shoulders. Both drew enormous crowds and were nationally televised: Both made Chicago seem an exciting, vital place to be. But there was one difference. Obama covered the cost of his event. The NFL was mooching off the taxpayer.
Obama’s campaign committee paid Chicago about $2 million as a rental fee to use Grant Park, and to cover police overtime costs for maintaining order. By the moment he stepped to the microphone on November 4, 2008, Obama was president-elect, and since Obama was appearing in Grant Park both as a hometown hero and as the first African American president, his acceptance speech engaged a clear public interest. But Obama took the high road, believing it would be unfair for city taxpayers to be saddled with the expense.
The NFL’s billionaire owners preferred the low road, arriving in Chicago with their hands out. While negotiating to hold the draft in Chicago, the NFL said it would come only if it were awarded free use of Grant Park. The city waived the $937,000 fee normally charged for large events there—the sole time, the Chicago Tribune reported, a for-profit enterprise received use of Grant Park without a fee. The Auditorium Theater was provided free as well, with taxpayers picking up utility costs for all the lighting and television-transmission facilities. The NFL provided no security deposits against damage to either venue. Had damage occurred, taxpayers would have been left on the hook as NFL owners boarded their private jets to depart.
Wherever the NFL’s “dignitaries” tread, they expect taxpayer-funded special treatment.The league’s agreement with Chicago specified the city would pay for police overtime, firefighter and ambulance calls, and for any “weather mitigation” necessary, while “the NFL will retain all revenue from tickets and advertising” sold. Chicago gave the NFL the right to close streets in the Loop and along the lakefront, and to remove any signs the league did not like: Essentially Chicago suspended the First Amendment, so protesters couldn’t raise banners that mentioned domestic violence, tax subsidies, or brain harm. As if the House of Romanov were touring to review the peasants, the NFL demanded free stopped-traffic police escorts “in and around the city” for “certain NFL dignitaries.” Certain NFL dignitaries.