College Sports Facilities

Universities Boost Alcohol Availability at Games

12 Jun, 2019

By: Michael Popke

In an effort to boost revenues and enhance the fan experience, more college and university athletic programs are expanding alcohol sales.

Within the past few months, the University of Minnesota, Rutgers University and the University of Illinois — all Big 10 schools, incidentally — announced plans to do so.

Minnesota, which has sold alcohol at football games but limited purchases at basketball and hockey games to fans in suites and clubs, is expected to make beer and wine available to all fans at basketball and hockey games. The decision still requires a formal vote by the Board of Regents. According to the change will bring in another $250,000 in alcohol revenue; a $70,000 investment is needed to prepare both Williams Arena and 3M Arena at Mariucci for expanded alcohol sales.

Rutgers also is moving alcohol sales into general seating areas at football games beginning this fall. Drinks also will be available at basketball, baseball and softball games. Meanwhile, Illinois will add beer to its concessions stands in general seating areas at its football and basketball venues beginning this fall, and plans call for beer sales also to be introduced at baseball and softball games.

Universities note that their decisions were vetted and supported by multiple stakeholders. In 2018, 51 of the 129 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs sold alcohol in general-seating areas of their football stadium. 

“We are continually looking for ways to improve fan engagement and augment our in-game fan experience,” Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said in a press release announcing the university’s decision. “The opportunity to purchase beer at our events was the number one request in a postseason survey of our football ticket holders. Fans indicated beer sales would encourage their use of purchased tickets and would increase the length of time they stayed in the stands. Schools with public beer sales generally see fewer alcohol-related issues. We have spoken with several peer institutions offering beer to ensure we are following best practices for implementing this change. We have studied the issue extensively and, with the collaboration and support of our colleagues in various offices across campus, we feel now is the right time to add this new element to our game-day experience.”

Indeed, selling alcohol at games may be more about enhancing the fan experience than strengthening revenue streams.

As noted three years ago, when the practice of introducing alcohol to more intercollegiate sporting events was beginning to pick up pace, “alcohol sales can add revenue to athletic departments, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to major sources of revenue like television and contributions. For the most part, it’s an enhancement to the fan experience.

The University of Oklahoma recently reported that a seven-month pilot program for alcohol sales at sporting events netted approximately $80,000 — a figure that might surprise some people.

“This idea wasn’t driven by some type of revenue windfall that we might make if we open it up. That’s not the impetus behind this,” Joe Castiglione, OU’s director of athletics, told the Tulsa World.  “It was really hearing from fans — quite a few fans — wanting an opportunity that they get in other venues for football, basketball, baseball, whatever it is, throughout the state of Oklahoma and in places they travel. It’s becoming more common. It’s been common in pro sports venues for a long time. It’s certainly become more common in collegiate facilities for the past five or 10 years.”

In May, OU’s Board of Regents authorized the permanent sale and advertising of alcoholic beverages at university sports events and facilities beginning this fall.

Not everyone is a fan of expanding alcohol sales at college sporting events.

“Selling beer and wine to all fans may be an easy money maker for the university, but then it wrongly falls to Piscataway Township to deal with the fall out,” Brian Wahler, mayor of Piscataway, N.Y. (home of Rutgers’ Stadium), said in a statement after Rutgers expanded its alcohol availability in February. “Our local roads shouldn’t become highways for drunk drivers. If this proposal moves forward and if the university maintains its unwillingness to work with local officials, the [t]ownship reserves the right to take all necessary action to protect public safety, which can include DWI checkpoints on game days.”

The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reported that Ohio State University, which began selling beer at Ohio Stadium in 2016, saw “a decrease in ejections from the stadium and open-container citations on game days since the school began selling beer at football games. … Ejections were down from 103 in the 2015 season to 25 in 2016 and 24 in 2017. Open-container citations were down from 65 in 2015 to four in 2016 and two in 2017.”


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