CHAMPAIGN — Jayne DeLuce says Memorial Stadium’s loss of the state high school championships every other year to make way for a Fighting Illini football game could lead Champaign County businesses to take a different approach to Thanksgiving by focusing their attention on Illini fans during the holiday week.
“Most of us here in Champaign County think of Thanksgiving weekend as the IHSA football weekend,” said DeLuce, president and CEO of Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“For Thanksgiving weekend to become an Illini football weekend will mean a shift of thinking for hotels to fill rooms, for restaurants to serve customers, for the people who provide tents and for others.”
DeLuce said the new challenge facing the area will be to attract people to attend a college football game on a holiday weekend when many of the University of Illinois students are out of town with their families.
“We want to rethink how to inspire people to come to the Illini football game and incorporate it in their Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” she said.
The Illinois High School Association announced on Thursday the state high school football championship games will no longer be played at Memorial Stadium during odd years starting in 2013.
The change is necessary because the Fighting Illini football team will be playing home games there over the Thanksgiving weekend in odd-numbered years beginning in 2013.
Since the Illini will be playing on the road during even-numbered years, the IHSA can continue to hold football championships at Memorial Stadium during those years.
DeLuce said the average attendance for the two-day IHSA football event is about 33,000 people. She said the football championships have an estimated economic impact of $5.8 million.
DeLuce said the economic impact number is derived from a formula developed by the National Sports Journal that figures direct and indirect spending on hotels, food, gas, facility rental, tent suppliers, catering and auxiliary services by people taking part in and attending an event.
The formula also figures higher spending by people who come to the event from outside the area.
She said the bureau doesn’t have a figure for the economic impact of an Illini football game.
“There is still going to be a good economic impact for this community,” DeLuce said. “It’s just a different kind of football being played for a different audience.”
Urbana economic development manager Tom Carrino said he was relieved to learn Champaign-Urbana would at least keep the high school championships every other year.
“Initially I thought they (the IHSA) had chosen another site completely,” Carrino said.
Carrino said the shifting of sites for IHSA football is understandable since it is a result of conflicts of scheduling following the expansion of the Big Ten.