Vikings preparing to celebrate 50th season

The Vikings will kick off their 50th season with autographs, memorabilia sales and other events during the final day of the NFL draft this year. It's part of the adaptation teams are making with a new draft schedule being implemented by the league.

While the NFL celebrates its 75th draft, the Vikings are billing April's draft as the kickoff to their 50th NFL season.

This year, the NFL draft is three days, presenting new challenges to not only the draft decision-makers but also those planning events to celebrate one of the favorite NFL events of the years for hardcore fans.

Normally, the Vikings hosted a popular draft party during the first round, which has been on a Saturday in late April for more than a decade. But the NFL switched gears this year, and the first day of the draft, which is now only the first round, is being held on Thursday night, April 22, starting at 6:30 p.m. Central. The next two rounds will be the following day starting at 5:30 p.m.

The idea is to create more prime-time television opportunities for the league to promote the big weekend and the influx of new talent into the league, but the change in scheduling is causing teams to adapt when it comes to their draft parties, which the Vikings had held on Saturday afternoons at their Winter Park facility.

This year, however, they will save that Saturday for celebrating the kickoff to the 50th season at the Mall of America with autograph sessions from alumni representing each decade, Vikings memorabilia, highlight films, KFAN broadcasts and NFL Draft highlights.

"Everybody around the league is doing something different, depending on whether they're picking early or late and whether you have a stadium with a club level or not. There's different activities going on," said Steve LaCroix, the Vikings vice president of marketing, when talking about how teams are adapting to the new draft schedule.

The Vikings are considering other events for Thursday's first round, but they aren't ready to announce those plans yet.

For now, Saturday, April 24, the final day of the draft, will be the replacement for what had previously been the draft party at Winter Park, where fans would anticipate the Vikings' first-round pick. The Vikings had one of the biggest, if not the biggest, draft-day events around the league, according to LaCroix.

"I think ours was one of the bigger productions, so it changed our plans quite a bit. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out and certainly this will benefit TV ratings," he said.

This year's Saturday celebration will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Best Buy Rotunda and each "court" at the Mall of America. Wristbands for autograph sessions will be available in the Best Buy Rotunda beginning at 9 a.m. that day. The Vikings will be announcing their list of confirmed alumni and current players for that event in the coming weeks.

Rounds four through seven, which are held that Saturday, start at 9 a.m. April 24.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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