The Illini men’s basketball buzz – and the business – is already flowing in CU | Economy

CHAMPAIGN – Associate director of ticketing, sales and customer service for track and field Illini watched last year’s men’s basketball team have a dream season in a hollowed out State Farm Center.

This year, the possibility that Jason Heggemeyer will still be able to hear players’ chatter or footsteps during home games is minimal.

This is because the student season tickets sold out on the same day they were made available. In three hours.

“They sold out faster than I expected. I knew they would be gone, but I didn’t think it would be that quick, ”said Heggemeyer. “It’s obviously a phenomenal sign of what people think of this team.”

What has changed since the last time the Illini men’s basketball team hit hardwood?

Of course, star guard and team leader Ayo Dosunmu left for the NBA.

But many veteran talent – including Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and star center Kofi Cockburn – have decided to return.

Much of the evolution is off the field: the spectators will be in the arena. Several members of the team are taking advantage of deals under a new state law allowing them to earn money from their names, pictures and likenesses.

For the fans and business interests who live and breathe Illini basketball, it’s a whole new ball game. Because while the world has changed around them, the team on the pitch has a comfortable continuity.

“It’s like a 2.0, like we’re going to start all over and start all over again,” Heggemeyer said. “We are all hoping and expecting to be good again this year – all of that excitement is coming back – but it’s legitimate hype, because we actually won.”

Take it from Gameday Spirit’s Marketing Director Maclaine Stahl, who started selling basketball merchandise three months before the season’s typical ramp-up.

A swift and savvy partnership with Frazier produced “That’s Ca $ h”, a NIL-focused company t-shirts with the tagline of the Guardian on the Field.

“It doesn’t normally happen, selling basketball stuff in the middle of the summer,” Stahl said.

Mid-year sales were only months away from the business advantage that the team’s Big Ten tournament success and the onset of March Madness produced.

In-house products, like the team’s “script” white jersey set, garnered a lot of love during the nearly empty spring run.

With that in mind, Stahl finds it hard to think of an Illini basketball game with more excitement in the air.

“It has to be upwards,” he said. “With everything going the right way when everything’s shut down due to COVID, everyone is trying to build on what we had last year with most of the same actors.”

So far, over 1,500 people have purchased Illini season tickets. Some are still available, starting at around $ 410, Heggemeyer said.

Despite the buzz, there will be plenty of chances to find places in any of the Illini’s 19 home games this season. For potential customers, he said, be prepared when ticket sales for a game start on October 27 (tickets to the exhibit go on sale October 13).

“There are opportunities. Now is the time to start thinking about it and putting the date on the calendar, ”he said.

“I have to get a ticket”

Fortunately, one of the people who was least surprised by the September 1 student ticket sales was one of its biggest benefactors.

Phil Usen, senior UI and communications director for the Orange Krush, will see thousands of student buyers pouring right into his encouragement section.

“I saw it coming a bit,” he said. “Some of my closest friends who weren’t thinking about the first or second year on the team were like, ‘I have to get a ticket. “”

After a year with rare virtual student cheering section meetings, the renewed interest is motivating for the lifelong fan of Illini, who controls the group’s social media pages.

“It excites me to know that I have more responsibilities, more people who care about his performance and motivates me to update Twitter or keep people informed,” he said.

Its lineup has its management team and 25 Krush Captains, all selected for the coming year.

Another Illini basketball staple – the Rebounders Callback Club – is gearing up for monthly in-person meetings, which will take place this season at the I Hotel and Conference Center on First Street.

The five monthly lunches planned for this season begin in November. In addition to booking speakers, raffles and meetings, it takes a lot of organizational work, which Vice President Deanna Woodard is happy to do.

“It’s busy, but it’s exciting, because we can do it this year,” she said. “When it’s gone for a year, that’s what makes you even more excited.”

Boosters still came together pretty much every month last season, including a handful of digital lunches, but it wasn’t the same.

Before the pandemic, Woodard and her husband “hadn’t missed a single game,” she said. They have been members of Fund I for over 25 years. Her son coached basketball for four years, until 2019.

She’s hoping to see the Rebounders bounce back in membership this year, returning to the 400-plus entrants they’ve held in years past.

Family memberships cost $ 75, Orange Partner for $ 300 and Business Partners for $ 1,500, and all come with increasing levels of perks and lunch appearances.

A lion’s share of the funds go to supporting Illini’s basketball team, whether it’s buying costumes for the team, tickets for their trips abroad, or thronging them. ‘other things.

“When you come to lunches, buy your raffles, you are helping the organization that will do good things for the team,” she said.

“Better than last year” The Krush has its own fundraising feature. The blue, orange and VIP levels, which allow for earlier entry to the games, are achieved by students who help organize charitable donations to CU organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, the Red Cross or the tournament. Knockout for Athletes Vs. Epilepsy.

Beyond these philanthropic events, they determine where to position the “Hype Night” student and whether to join one of the exhibition games on October 23 or 29.

Usen and his team are trying to determine if the home games over the winter break against Michigan and Purdue will have appearances at Orange Krush, as the two key clashes fall outside of the college semester.

As Usen noted, sophomore guard Andre Curbelo never played with the roar of his State Farm student section shaking the court. In the 2019-20 season, Illini’s men’s team set a home record of 15-3.

“I will also present the alternative: the teams came here last year and didn’t have to deal with the Orange Krush and the amount of energy they bring in,” Heggemeyer said.

The Krush rep was the only one to come up with his predictions for the season, which he described as “high” and “bullish”: “An undefeated non-conference and a 16-4 Big Ten record.”

He’s big on transfer talent – Omar Payne of Florida, Alfonso Plummer of Utah, Austin Hutcherson returning from injury.

He might be a prophet. CU fans and businesses certainly hope so.

“I honestly think we’ll be better than last year,” Usen said.

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