CHAMPAIGN — The day after the Illinois men’s basketball team beat Indiana on March 1, Daniel Hampel laughed when he saw himself in photos all over social media.
Hampel wasn’t the focus of the popular pictures. The Danville native just so happened to be sitting behind commit Adam Miller, who Illini fans hope becomes the next freshman sensation when he arrives on campus next season.
“I must’ve had three or four different friends text that to me,” Hampel said. “I wish I would’ve known, and I could’ve gotten a little better (pose) going.”
Hampel, though, is used to working behind the scenes rather than the focus of photos. One of the reasons he was at the game, aside from being a lifelong Illini fan, was to check out the facilities for Thursday’s “The Price is Right Live” show at 7:30 p.m. at State Farm Center.
For the last four years, the Schlarman grad has worked to bring the show to State Farm Center, where he remembers watching the Illini drop No. 13 Michigan State, 84-63, in 1998 on their way to a Big Ten title.
Hampel promotes “The Price is Right Live” through his job as managing director of The Roberts Group, an Indianapolis-based company that promotes events like touring Broadway shows. He had already brought “The Price is Right” to Normal and Springfield. He took it to Lincoln, Neb., two years ago, on the same day the Illini played Nebraska.
But the Midwest legs of the tour conflicted with the Illinois basketball season, and a space like the Virginia Theatre wasn’t conducive to a show with massive props, including the iconic wheel. After four years of trying, he brought it close to home.
“I remember asking, ‘Is early March OK, or do you have to hold dates for potential NIT games?’” Hampel said. “They joked with me, ‘We don’t plan on playing in the NIT next year.’ I said, ‘Great, that’s what I want to hear.’”
Those words will likely prove prophetic. The No. 21 Illini are shoo-ins for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2013.
Nearly everything about the show, Hampel said, will be the same as the one that airs daily on CBS, aside from the fact that Todd Newton will host rather than Drew Carey. Another difference will be that five new names will be called to “come on down,” for all of the nine or 10 rounds.
“It’s a truly exciting atmosphere,” he said. “It’s the opportunity for people who may never be able to make the trip to Hollywood to see a live taping to get the next best thing.”
Hampel’s company has promoted live versions of other game shows over the years, including “Family Feud,” “America’s Got Talent” and “Dancing With The Stars,” but none have worked nearly as well as “The Price is Right,” which they’ve booked 130 times. For Hampel, though, this particular date stands out.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “In 15 years, it’ll be the closest to home where I’m ever presenting a show. We’re doing over 100 shows this year, and this is by far the most excited I am for any of them — even three weeks of ‘Wicked’ — to bring ‘The Price is Right Live’ to central Illinois and Champaign-Urbana.”