- 1402 S. First St.
- Champaign, IL 61820
- (217) 333-3630
I finished up my weekend in Champaign at the newly renovated Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois. Like many other Big Ten schools, U of I decided they needed luxury suites and to do so, they chopped their upper deck seating on the west side by quite a bit. The benefit for me is one of the best press boxes I’ve ever worked out of and a relocation of the camera platforms from a basket hanging off the upper deck that I had to climb over the rail to get to to platforms at the back of the concourse which is much safer and comfortable.
From the outside, the home of the Fightin’ Illini doesn’t look much different. The architects were able to keep the integrity of the building. Something that couldn’t be done a few hours north at Soldier Field in Chicago. Inside, the west side is a totally different building. When you first walk in to the stadium, you come to a huge open concourse area. Plenty of room for the thousands of fans who show up on a Saturday afternoon to walk around comfortably. The walls are lined with concession stands and souvenir kiosks. If your seats are in the lower bowl, you can easily get to those seats from where you enter. When the stadium was redesigned, they made it possible to walk from one side to the other which was something you couldn’t do just a few years ago.
If you’re sitting in the upper deck, you have to take a few ramps up to your seats. I got to know these well on Friday. Only two of the six elevators were operational and there was still a lot of construction going on, so getting an elevator was a 45 minute wait. The sight lines are great. I’ve been pretty much everywhere in the stadium and there’s not a seat where you can’t see the whole field. The student section, known as the Block I, is in the north end zone which is part of the Renaissance, but was completed before last year’s season. There is a smaller student section on the east side of the stadium near Illinois’ locker room.
The big, new addition this year is the suites. Most college football programs are starting to feel pressured to build these things. I only got a quick peek inside when I got off the elevator on the wrong floor, but from the people I talked to on Saturday, these suites are top notch. We thought it was funny on Friday to see a Budweiser truck unloading knowing that alcohol is not served at college football games. That’s true for all the regular fans, but if you fork over the thousands of dollars for a suite, you’ll get your booze. Someone from the school was telling us that Penn State tried a few years ago to keep alcohol out of the suites. They didn’t sell any of them. The next year, they made it BYOB for the suites and amazingly, every suite was sold. I think it’s kind of a sad commentary on society that you can’t spend thousands of dollars without getting booze.
My camera platform was right in front of a concession stand and it kept pretty busy, but I didn’t see anything on the menu that was anything other than the standard stadium food. I saw a lot of people walking back to their seats with popcorn, hot dogs and soda. I guess if you’re doing thins right, you’ll do most of you’re eating in the parking lot before the game anyway and the concession stands are nice just to tide you over until the post game tailgate.
I grew up about an hour from Champaign and we never went to Illinois football games. The first time I was ever there was for work one year when I shot for the scoreboard crew. In just five years, I’ve seen a huge change in what Memorial Stadium was. All the elements of the original stadium are still there. You still get the feeling that this is the same place Red Grange opened up and made famous, but at the same time, you get a modern, comfortable atmosphere to watch Big Ten Football.