Alcohol in College Football Stadiums

Saturdays in the fall mean one thing for many people: college football game day. Excited fans will travel all over to watch their alma mater play. College football stadiums hold as many as 61,500 people at Scott Stadium or 115,000 at Michigan Stadium. This amount of crazed fans in the stands are looking to have a good time. University athletic program’s consistently search for new ways to generate positive fan experience, revenue and attendance.

A big difference between a game day at a college football stadium versus a professional NFL stadium is the sale of alcohol. Recently, college football conferences have begun lifting the ban on alcohol sold inside the stadium. “Programs across the country have added alcohol sales,” according to Sports Illustrated, “and the NCAA ended its long-standing ban at championship events last spring”. This lift on the ban promotes college athletic programs to act more like money generating NFL stadiums. Colleges try to keep their athletic program’s values apart from professional programs as it is still an academic university.

Ten years ago, less than a twelve big-time football universities permitted beer sales in their stadiums. Most colleges still prohibit the sale of alcohol in their football stadiums, even if their conference now allows it. Promoting the sale of alcohol at a university does not align with their mission statement. Many see this as an ethical concern causing increased tension between academics and athletics. However, many football conferences over the past decade have dropped this ban. “More universities are embracing the sale of alcohol at football games,” Tracy wrote in a New York Times article, “but not everyone is comfortable with the trend.” Do the costs outweigh the benefits of permitting the sale of alcohol in college football stadiums? 

Athletic programs are expensive. They rely heavily on donations, ticket revenue, and vending inside their stadium. Athletic directors faced with declining revenue have to make a decision of large budget cuts or find another way to generate revenue. This could be deciding to lift the ban of alcohol at their football stadium to avoid budget cuts. There is a big financial incentive to begin the sale of alcohol inside their football stadium. Ohio State brought home $1.35 million in beer sales last season and Purdue had over $550,000 in gross revenue beer sales their first year lifting the alcohol ban in 2018.

Photo Credit: Catherine Trevey.
Pictured at UVA Scott Stadium tailgate with family and friends before the game.

Fan experience is also important to the revenue of the athletic programs. Ticket sales, especially season tickets, are one of the largest contributors to a universities athletic programs. A university’s athletic department is committed to increasing fan experience in their stadium. Luxury box suites in college football stadiums must be worth their price for the experience. Many colleges begin the sale of alcohol inside their stadium to guests in their suites or other premium ticket holders to keep them happy.

Beer and college game-days go together. People set up tailgates outside the stadium to be able to drink and enjoy themselves before entering the game. A lot of people choose to continue drinking instead of entering the stadium when it begins because alcohol is not allowed inside. This can cause alcohol related problems and lack of attendance in the stadium. “In 2010, West Virginia University started selling beer inside the stadium,” Tracy wrote, “they prohibited fans from leaving and reentering the stadium”. A decline in alcohol related problems was the result because people knew they could continue drinking inside the stadium. Without this option, some may “pregame” too hard before. West Virginia showed a significant increase in concession sales with a correlated rise in attendance. WVU has shown great promise in benefits of allowing the sale of alcohol.

Every university has a mission statement that describes their academic purpose of their university values. Encouraging alcohol at a collegiate level game has a direct conflict with what the university stands for. Half of college students are still under age for the legal drinking limit. Promoting alcohol at football stadiums creates an environment inconsistent with the values of the university, and can come at a great safety cost. Athletics are a competitive environment, when a college sees another lifting the ban they are more likely to as well. The universities that have not lifted this ban yet are defending their academic integrity and values.

Alcohol abuse is a threat to college students. Universities battle this issue without consumption of alcohol inside their stadiums. An article in Forbes proclaimed the statistic that “more than 1800 college students die annually from alcohol-related injuries” . Lifting the ban on alcohol in college stadiums may put more students at risk for abuse. The health and safety of guests at athletic events at a university is a priority. Alcohol at a college football stadium can lead to may related problems like drunk driving. However, providing alcoholic options inside the football stadium can reduce binge drinking beforehand.

The University of Virginia lifted the ban the 2019 season, yet included additional rules to promote safety. Scott Stadium (UVA) added beverage gardens inside the east and west gates. These beverage – beer – gardens sell beer, wine and hard cider to the public. They permit each guest (over 21) to purchase two drinks at a time with four drinks in total. They keep track of each guest’s consumption of alcohol with tally marks up to four on paper wristbands the guest receives upon entry. The perimeters of the beverage gardens promotes safe consumption where minors may not enter and a drinking limit is provided. These regulations help limit alcohol related problems while increasing revenue, attendance and fan experience.

College football today is like a large competitive business. Athletic departments in universities continuously seek to improve their ‘business’. The benefits of selling alcohol at a college football stadium has shown to significantly increase revenue, yet comes with an ethical burden. Permitting alcohol distances the athletic program in a university from their academic values. Obviously most universities feel the cost is too high to hop on the bandwagon, as only 52 out of 129 FBS programs sell alcohol in their football stadiums. This is a monumental year for this increase in programs lifting their ban, wonder where we will be in 10 years.

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