BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — High school football just ended, but the excitement is just beginning in the Twin Cities. 25,000 fans over two days, will come to Normal for the IHSA state championship games.
Those 25,000-plus fans will spend money in local bars, shops and hotels.
The annual Thanksgiving weekend tradition will bring an estimated $2.15 million in tourism revenue into the community according V.P. of Sports and Events at the Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau, Matt Hawkins.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, ISU athletic director Kyle Brennan said after years of hail marys, ISU was finally able to convert. Hancock Stadium will once again host the 16 best high school football teams in Illinois; the first time since 1998.
“It’s an honor and privilege to have this exciting event on our campus,” Brennan said.
ISU and Hancock Stadium was the inaugural site for the state title games from 1974-1998. From 1980-1984, IHSA held class 5 and 6-A games in Evanston.
Since the late 90s, Hancock has undergone $23 million in renovations and the community itself has also grown.
“Overall, I believe Bloomington-Normal is becoming more of a hotspot within the state, within the region. As you mentioned, all the folks coming to town through new employment opportunities,” Hawkins said.
In the last five years, the title games, averaged 25,000 fans over two days, and for local hotels, Bloomington-Normal’s CVB estimates 1,500-2,000 rooms filled. Hawkins compared the weekend to another State Farm Classic, an annual basketball tournament that takes place around Christmas.
“Travel and tourism generally is fairly slow over the Thanksgiving weekend so having those 25,000 people in town shopping and staying overnight in hotels, it’s going to be huge for our community,” Hawkins said.
ISU’s bid, beat out other offers from U of I in Urbana-Champaign, NIU in DeKalb and SIU in Carbondale.
“They have a great location and a great facility here at Illinois State University and the community and campus have been successful hosts to a number of other IHSA events,” said IHSA associate director, Kurt Gibson.
IHSA considers many factors when selecting a host site; including local support, location and venue size. Gibson said size does matter when looking at the venues, but bigger isn’t always better.
“Nothing against those venues, they’re beautiful venues, but they are a little larger. We think the size of Hancock Stadium coupled with what we expect our attendance to be is really going to create an intimate experience for everyone,” Gibson said.
The five-year deal will see the football title games hosted right here from the 2023 season through 2027. Bloomington-Normal also hosts girls volleyball, girls basketball, and numerous other state title events for IHSA.