B-N Visitors Bureau anticipates 25,000 visitors following IHSA football announcement
The Illinois High School Association's decision to make the Twin Cities and Illinois State University's Hancock Stadium the site of state football championships starting next year is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the area and millions in tourism revenue.
Following a news conference Thursday, Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) vice president Matt Hawkins said that economic boost will come to the area during a time where hospitality and tourism revenue typically take a downturn.
"Tourism is fairly slow over the Thanksgiving weekend, so having those 25,000 people in town shopping and staying at our hotels — that's going to be huge for our community," he said.
The IHSA's decision to pivot from its rotation between Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as host sites and back to Bloomington-Normal marks the first time state football championships will be held in the Twin City area since 1998. ISU was the first IHSA state championship host in 1974.
The IHSA football title games bring an annual estimated direct economic impact of over $2.15 million, according to the CVB.
"When I started this job 17 years ago, I would say within the first month — and several times since — many people within the community asked when we were bringing back two things: Bloomington Gold and IHSA football," he said. "It might have taken a while, but I'm happy to say we're now two for two."
Hawkins said the last time a bid had been put in for ISU to serve as championship host was in 2011. In the 10-plus years since then, he said, CVB staff and other community partners refined their approach to making competitive offers to the IHSA. ISU completed $23 million worth of renovations and improvements to Hancock Stadium in that time as well, beginning in 2013.
It's certainly helped, too, that the Twin Cities have sort of "grown up" since the 2011 bid, Hawkins said, noting the subsequent arrivals of electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian in Normal and international chocolate and confection company Ferrero in Bloomington.
"Overall, I believe Bloomington-Normal is becoming more of a hot spot in Illinois," he said. "It's a hotbed for activity and we're ... trying to do our best to improve the quality of life for locals here. To be able to accomplish this, I think football fans across the state will be pretty happy, especially our locals."
In Fighting Illini territory, however, the disappointment of IHSA choosing Hancock Stadium and Bloomington-Normal as host site has been voiced by University of Urbana-Champaign's athletic director and the CEO of Visit Champaign County alike.
"We are very disappointed with today’s news, which ends our longstanding history of hosting the IHSA Football State Championship games at Memorial Stadium,” UIUC athletics director Josh Whitman said in a statement provided to multiple local media outlets. "We believe Memorial Stadium is the most iconic football stadium in Illinois and offers the state’s premier experience for high school student-athletes and coaches, along with the fans and media who attend and cover the championships."
Jayne Deluce, CEO of Visit Champaign County, also issued a statement, saying "just two weeks ago on November 25-26, we hosted a highly successful IHSA Football weekend with over 20,000 fans in attendance, many of whom complimented our amazing venue, plus Tent City, community hosts, caterers, police escorts, stadium staff, and everyone involved in rolling out the orange and blue carpet.”
In this year's bid process, the IHSA indicated it would prioritize bids that came from universities that could serve as hosts every year, for five consecutive years. UIUC historically could only host every other year due to a conflict with its Big Ten schedule.
The only other university to place a bid meeting that criterion besides ISU and NIU was Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.