Bears fans who aren’t quite die-hard enough to travel to New York City for the annual NFL draft can thank the Rockettes for the short trip this year. With the high kickers occupying Radio City Music Hall during the event dates, Chicago will host the proceedings for the first time in 51 years.
The draft, the league’s made-for-TV drama in which the futures of both teams and incoming players can be made or broken, will take over the Auditorium Theatre  of Roosevelt University, as well as Congress Plaza  across the street, starting with the first round of picks on Thursday, April 30, followed by rounds 2 to 7 on May 1 and 2. Here’s what you need to know, depending on your level of draft needs.
You want to meet NFL players.
The draft festivities will start with a red carpet ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on April 30 at Roosevelt’s Michigan Avenue entrance , just north of Congress Parkway. The top draft prospects will walk the carpet into the theater, as will a handful of NFL legends, says Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of special events. Current and former players will also sign autographs at a fan fest in Grant Park , opening on Thursday and Friday before the draft and on Saturday around noon. If you’re more into random creeping, stalk the lobby of one of the 13 hotels the NFL booked for the draft, including the Congress Plaza Hotel  (directly across from the Auditorium), the Renaissance Blackstone , and the Hilton .
You think the Bears have a long way to go before another Super Bowl win.
A new general manager and coach mark yet another beginning for the Bears. But in case Chicagoans don’t see the big game anytime soon, you can at least get a glimpse of the elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy. It and various Super Bowl rings will be on display all three days at the fan fest, where you can gaze into the shiny silver and dream about Cutler throwing short passes.
You like your odds.
Tickets are free—if you can score them before they run out. That won’t be easy. In past years, fans have lined up outside the night before, but the 3,900-seat Auditorium has only about two-thirds the capacity of Radio City. And, for the first year ever, the NFL is instituting a lottery system to try to prevent people from waiting in line all night just to be turned away, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. You can register for the lottery at NFL.com/DraftTown up until 10:59 p.m. on April 5. Winners will be notified the following day. If you strike out, head over to Grant Park, drown your sorrows with an NFL-approved vendor’s beer, and watch a live broadcast. “They’ll have a full house [in the Auditorium] because of hardcore fans who want to get in and yell and scream and wear their gear,” says former Bears radio broadcaster Hub Arkush, now director of football content for the website Chicago Football. “But you’ll probably see more on TV.”
You’d sooner spend money than wait with the riffraff.
Draft VIP packages will be available through NFL On Location, the league’s hospitality business. Details hadn’t been released at presstime (go to nflonlocation.com for the latest), though last year $599 got you tickets to all three days, a tour of the draft set, a “chalk talk session” with an NFL analyst, photo ops at the podium, and a few souvenirs, according to NFL On Location organizer QuintEvents.
You fancy yourself a mock draft expert.
The 32 team tables, adorned with helmets and logos, are a draft staple where official-looking people field phone calls about pick or trade decisions on behalf of the brain trust back at each team’s headquarters. This year, for the first time, those tables will be on full display outside the draft hall, at Congress Plaza. A limited number of tickets will be available for fans to get past the ropes and get an earful of the latest wheeling and dealing. Elsewhere in this zone, fans can take in player interviews and draft analysis from the folks at ESPN and NFL Network.
You just want to avoid traffic.
While city and sports commission officials haven’t yet offered specific traffic notices, from April 19 (when the NFL asked for street closures to start) until May 3 expect detours similar to those for Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza. You’d be wise to avoid Congress Parkway, Jackson Drive, and Balbo Avenue from Wabash Avenue to Lake Shore Drive. In other words, now is an excellent time to get acquainted with Lower Wacker Drive.
What the NFL Demanded
Before picking Chicago as a draft venue, here’s what the league asked of the city and its tourism arm Choose Chicago. (No word on whether they complied.)
Venue rental fee
Number of days of road closures
In promotional support
1 month ago