State Farm Center welcomes back spectators
By: Anthony Pasquale
The State Farm Center went from a popular venue that hosts nearly 50 events a year to a COVID-19 testing site for students and faculty when COVID arrived in 2020.
In fact, some State Farm Center employees were forced to become testing site operators because their job at the venue became obsolete during the pandemic. Brad Swanson, Director of Marketing at State Farm Center, took pride in how his team was able to make that transition.
“I'm really proud personally, of the people who work with us at State Farm Center," he said. "Of how a lot of our people were able to kind of switch gears and provide value to the campus community in a completely different way than all of us are normally trained to do.”
Now as COVID-19 cases have started to decline and vaccines have become readily available, State Farm Center has transitioned away from a testing site, back into a venue that hosts basketball games, Illinois high school state tournaments, broadway shows like Hairspray, concerts like Yung Gravy and wrestling matches for fans to see.
“We really pride ourselves in that diversity of programing," Swanson said. "We want to bring stuff to campus that's going to be of interest to students, we want to reach out to the community and offer various things that would be of interest throughout the Champaign-Urbana community and throughout Central Illinois.”
“The biggest thing was getting our staff back in the office regularly, starting to host events again and I think just proving that we can do that and do it safely,” he said.
Basketball was the first domino to fall in terms of getting fans back in the stands. Illinois played the 2020-2021 season in empty arenas after having their 2019-2020 season abruptly cancelled in March of 2020 due to COVID. But in 2022, the NCAA and the Big Ten were able to get fans back in the stands -- which meant State Farm Center could once again welcome spectators back in the building.
Maclaine Stahl, marketing manager of Gameday Spirit Fanstore, the Official Merchandising Partner of State Farm Center, has seen a big boost in business since the venue has reopened. This comes after losing a ton of business in 2020-2021, not being able to sell merchandise in stadium when the Illini were the best they had been since 2005.
“Basketball in particular you know last year was tough for a lot of fans, having a basketball team as good as our basketball team was last year and not being able to see them in person, it definitely hurt me, and I'm sure it hurt a lot of Illinois fans and students and that kind of stuff," Stahl said. "I think that we had a really successful year selling in stadium and like i said i think you get a lot of people coming in who haven't been around in a long time and we haven't done this in a while let's get a shirt or something to commemorate the trip.”
While there still is a road to go until State Farm Center is hosting 50 events per-year again, they have plans to host Earth Wind and Fire in May and the WWE for an event in June.