The last time State Farm Center buzzed with fans at an Illini men’s basketball game was March 8, 2020, a memorable win against Iowa.
That streak will be broken this Saturday, 594 days later, in an exhibition contest versus the University of St. Francis.
So how will the in-stadium experience stack up to the contests two seasons ago?
Like Memorial Stadium, State Farm Center is going cashless for all in-arena concessions and making use of self-order kiosks for food and drink.
“This is because of the staffing shortages throughout the country,” Arner said. “We want fans to know that coming in so they can be prepared.”
Outside vendors, such as TCBY and Hickory River Smokehouse, will have additional kiosks stationed inside the arena.
“There is still a mask mandate in the state for indoor areas, and we’re requiring masks of all fans who are not actively eating or drinking,” Arner said.
Masks will be checked at State Farm entrances, and disposable masks will be offered to those without them. But fans can’t enter without a face covering.
Additional signs, held by employees and posted on walls, will remind occupants of the mask policy, Arner said.
“The ushers and everyone who works at State Farm Center has been asked to be vigilant when people are walking to seats or standing in the concession line, to check if folks are wearing their masks,” Arner said.
Student season tickets sold out in a matter of hours this year, so Illini athletics is switching up the usual entrance in hopes of preventing traffic stoppages.
“We are going to have students enter from the upper north concourse instead of the lower northwest concourse, due to volume of student season tickets sold this year,” Arner said. “This gives us more room for staging, since we stage student seats in the Orange Krush in four different groups based on fundraising.”
The four “Orange Krush levels” determine the time and order students can enter games. Krush “VIP” holders, who’ve helped facilitate more than $1,000 in charitable fundraising, get first dibs on seats, followed by Orange ($250), Blue ($100) and White levels, the last of which is reached by buying a student ticket.
I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.