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Autzen Stadium Is Focus Of Local, National Attention

On Saturday, Autzen Stadium in Eugene will become the 8th largest city in the state. Bigger in population than Corvallis or Springfield.

And before the game, many of the 60,000 fans will be tailgating outside the stadium with food and, of course, alcohol.

This weekend, that drinking will be against the law — but Monday, Eugene made it legal beginning in November. Ethan Lindsey reports.

Some Duck fans started the tailgate early, as evidenced by a quick scan of the Internet. One U of O student put up a video taped outside the stadium on Sunday, waiting in line for tickets.

Narration: “This is the Oregon-Cal campout for tickets at Autzen Stadium. Its going to be nuts. ESPN College Gameday is coming.”

More on ESPN and the national television audience later.

The school expects about 60,000 fans to attend Saturday's game against the University of California. And the Eugene Police Department says it will have its hands full directing traffic, maintaining security, and arresting drunk drivers.

Here's police captain Pete Kerns.

Pete Kerns: “We have about 12 to 15 troopers in the area of Autzen Stadium following the game in an effort to arrest people who make the mistake of drinking and then getting behind the wheel of a car and driving.”

So, to better manage game day crowds, Kerns convinced the Eugene City Council Monday to legalize public drinking in parking lots around the stadium. That way his officers can stop worrying about public consumption, he says.

But the change won't happen in time for Saturday's big game, because decisions of this sort require a 30-day waiting period. The city says the public drinking will be allowed for the final two home games of the year.

The council voted 6-to-2 in favor of the measure.

Lois Harvick is the executive director of the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. Her group protested the vote.

Lois Harvick: “What MADD is concerned with is the message that's being sent regarding illegal public drinking now becoming legal.”

She says the city made one concession. It re-banned public drinking as soon as the game ends. Originally, councilors considered allowing alcohol for two hours afterwards.

Dave Houser is the president of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce. He says businesses didn't really have a position on the vote but he says he sees some benefit.

Dave Houser: Really, more, its about creating an atmosphere around the games that makes a football game more like a festival.”

That festival-like atmosphere brings us back to the sports TV channel ESPN and the national television audience for this weekend's game.

The game is scheduled for a 12:30 kickoff nationally on ABC. But because it is a head-to-head matchup between two undefeated teams, ESPN will broadcast its Saturday morning preview show from Eugene. That means even more national exposure for the city and the school.

Chamber of Commerce president Houser says ESPN's presence won't mean that much to this week's bottom line - but could help in the long-term.

Dave Houser: “Its always a lot of fun for folks around the country to get a glimpse of what Eugene's like, particularly on a football Saturday, and to help them get acquainted with our region.”

Non-football fans could be forgiven for not expressing as much excitement as Houser. In their defense, the ESPN show has broadcast from Eugene before and in front of a cheering TV crowd last Saturday, ESPN cohost Lee Corso says the only thing he really remembers about the city was how crazy the fans are.

Lee Corso: “I'll tell you one thing, Autzen Stadium is the loudest stadium per-person, that I've ever been in.”

Some estimate that even without the national TV audience, the city and its businesses pocket $2 million from every home football game.

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