CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – “The university does well, the athletics and the academics does well, the entire community benefits,” I-Hotel President Sam Santhanam said.

Hotels, restuarants, gas stations… They’re all preparing for a busy weekend. Tickets for Saturday’s Illini football game are almost gone.

Athletics officials are expecting the biggest crowd at Memorial Stadium they’ve seen in years, and surrounding businesses are looking forward to it too.

We spoke with I-Hotel President Sam Santhanam, just down the street from the stadium. He said game days are great for business this year, especially following the pandemic. Plus, it’s great to see fans returning.

Although he couldn’t share specific details on the hotel’s revenue, Santhanam said there’s a big difference during successful U of I football and basketball seasons. And this weekend may be an extra exciting one – Memorial Stadium could sell out for the first time since 2016.

“It’s a lot of people. A lot of traffic. People are excited. You see a good amount of tailgating, the students are all happy. You can see the orange and blue everywhere,” Santhanam said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, U of I athletics ticket manager Jason Heggemeyer confirmed “only a small number of seats” for Saturday’s game are left. And if any fans still want to buy tickets – they shouldn’t wait.

Heggemeyer said it would be “the icing on top of the cake” this year. He said people are realizing it’s a special season, and that’s why attendance numbers are climbing.

The Illini are taking on Michigan State this Saturday at 2:30. If you’d like to get tickets, you can do so online.