Bowling Green, Kent State, Akron, and Minnesota are four of the schools which sell beer at their games. In major college football, beer is sold at 22 of the 120 stadiums, twice as many as a decade ago.
Blade Photo illustration Enlarge
Greg Christopher did a double take as he passed the concession stand at a Cincinnati-area community park a few summers ago.
At his teenage son's travel baseball tournament, a vendor was selling alcohol.
The Bowling Green State University athletic director had always adhered to the once-sacred line that kept amateur sporting events dry.
Christopher saw the beer stand in a public setting as a sign of the times.
"I guess things change and become a little more accepted," he recalled thinking.
Christopher, in turn, posed the question: Could BGSU safely make beer available to its fans at home football games?
"Let's not be disingenuous about our approach to beer in a college environment," Christopher said. "It's part of the culture. We can show our students, we can show our fans that we can manage it properly versus hiding it underground."
When BGSU's trustees approved beer sales at Doyt Perry Stadium late in the 2008 season, the school was on the vanguard of a fast-growing trend.
Beer is sold to the average fan at 22 of 120 major college football stadiums -- more than twice as many as a decade ago -- as schools search for new sources of revenue and, in some cases, counter intuitive ways to curb alcohol abuse.
In the past month, Akron and Minnesota gained approval to sell beer at football games this fall, with the Gophers becoming the first school in the Big Ten to tap the keg.
Last year, West Virginia earned a net profit of $520,000 in its first season of stadium-wide beer sales.
Not for most
Critics contend schools selling beer while at the same time promoting alcohol-education initiatives is hypocritical, and other area schools continue to follow the traditional collegiate model.
At Toledo, where the university permits alcohol in the Glass Bowl suites and beer commercials on radio broadcasts of the Rockets' football games, athletic director Mike O'Brien said there are no plans to sell beer in the main seating areas. Officials at Ohio State and Michigan, two of the country's richest athletic departments with fans that regularly sell out their 100,000-plus seat football stadiums, said the issue is off the table. Both schools also ban beer advertisements and alcohol in the suites.
"I understand why Akron is doing it," OSU athletic director Gene Smith said. "They're trying to do it to enhance their atmosphere. We just don't need to do that."
The NCAA is on board, banning beer sales and alcohol-related signage at its 88 championship events while limiting the broadcast of alcohol advertising to one minute per hour on college sports broadcasts. Many leagues also have similar policies, including the Southeastern Conference, where member schools can only serve beer in suites. As Louisiana State coach Les Miles said last fall, "If they serve beer in Tiger Stadium, I fear that the upper decks might not hold it."
Big Ten spokesperson Scott Chipman said there are no policies governing schools' beer distribution or advertising. The league bans beer commercials on the Big Ten Network but does not control the advertising content during game broadcasts on other networks like ESPN.
For many athletic departments, as states continue to cut higher-education funding, money talks.
The Minnesota Legislature, which passed a bill that will allow beer sales at the Gophers' TCF Bank Stadium by a combined 170-16 vote last month, estimated the move will generate the university $1.5 million to $2 million in revenue per year. After a 3-9 season under new coach Jerry Kill, they also expect the wet concourses will help fill the 50,805-seat on-campus stadium.
"Hopefully as coach Kill's building up a wonderful new team, eventually we won't need alcohol at the stadium," Rep. Leon Lille told the Minnesota House.
Elsewhere, West Virginia added more than $700,000 in new revenue last year through beer sales and corporate sponsorships from Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors Brewing Co., and Morgantown Brewing Co. At the Mountaineers' home game against LSU, West Virginia sold more than double the amount of $7 domestic bottles and $9 20-ounce drafts from the local craft brewery (36,042) than it did bottles of water (8,510), souvenir cups of soda (7,138), and cups of frozen lemonade (2,590) combined, according to figures provided by the school.
At Syracuse, a spokesman said beer accounts for 47 percent of concession sales at football and basketball games. Bowling Green nets between $20,000 and $25,000 annually off the sales, Christopher said. Kent State uses the suds to pull in fans. The university, which ranked 119th nationally last year with an average home football attendance of 11,587, sells beer for $2 at Dix Stadium.
"We make zero dollars off of our beer sales," Kent State deputy athletic director Tom Kleinlein said.
"It's more of an attraction to drive people to come to our games."
Kent State and others insist they are not fostering an unsafe environment. To the contrary, most administrators argue controlled alcohol sales along with revamped polices help deter binge drinking outside the stadium.
West Virginia officials reported to the university board of governors a drop in game-day arrests last year in part because the school eliminated its longtime pass-out rule -- a practice that allowed fans to return to their liquor-stocked tailgates at halftime.
At Bowling Green, Christopher classified the move to sell beer as part of the athletic department's new multipronged approach to monitoring fans' consumption; not an attempt "to get a couple more nickels."
The school also clamped down on the party atmosphere in the lots, restricting entry to fans in possession of game tickets and ushering out the all-day tailgates of years past. At kickoff, fans now must either enter the game or leave the lot.
"It's not going to be a six-hour party in the parking lot," Christopher said.
Inside the stadium, sales are tightly monitored. Fans must have a bracelet and identification to purchase a limit of two beers -- a 16-ounce draft costs $5 -- at one of two kiosks on opposite ends of the concourse. BGSU police Capt. Mike Campbell said officers monitor the stands and seek out beer-wielding minors without a wristband. Last call is at halftime.
Campbell, who came to BGSU from UT last year, said he did not notice a difference in behavior between fans at the Glass Bowl and Perry Stadium while Capt. Tim James said alcohol-related incidents have not increased. BGSU did not have figures available for comparison.
"I was a little bit hesitant and thought beer [sales] could possibly create some issues," said James, who has led BGSU's enforcement efforts at football games for six years. "Happily, I was wrong."
"I know some schools will vehemently talk about it not being something they want to do," Christopher said.
"And for some of the schools that get very large checks related to their television contracts, it allows them to be more principled because of that. But the bottom line is, I believe we manage this."
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.