Cash-strapped colleges seeking new revenue streams are turning to a source of income with a history of being off-limits: alcohol sales at college athletic events.
Beer goes hand-in-hand with attending a professional game, and college fans are no strangers to tailgating outside the arena, but several universities are trying their hand at beer and wine sales inside the games. At Southern Methodist University, the decision to sell alcohol during 12 basketball games last season led to a six-figure windfall, USA Today reports. With that kind of revenue, and with costs rising and litigation over compensation for college athletes pending, it’s possible more universities will go in that direction.
“It seems like it’s going that way, and I think you’ll see more doing it,” said Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock. “But it’s a cultural issue at a place of higher education where there’s a tradition (of not selling it). I don’t know that it will be one of the top things on my agenda. But as more people do it … I’ll definitely be watching.”
Virgina Tech does not allow alcohol sales at games, but some universities, like Babcock’s previous employer Cincinnati, have been doing it for years. The NCAA does not have an over-arching regulation on alcohol sales, instead leaving it up to the schools (the SEC Conference is an exception and bans the practice). No alcohol sales are permitted at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but member schools could could conceivably sell alcohol at games during the season.
The University of Minnesota made $181,678 in profit last season from alcohol sales as part of a two-year pilot program, according to USA Today. Other schools have also reported profits.
Of course, revenue is not the only issue surrounding alcohol sales at college games. Public safety is a concern. At SMU, a legal-to-drink 21-year-old student gets a wrist band and three pull tabs upon entering the arena, one for each drink. After that they’re cut off. SMU needed the approval of several campus organizations, including the president’s office and student affairs office, to push sales through.
Boston College does not sell beer for basketball games at Conte Forum or football games at Alumni Stadium, while BU’s Agganis Arena does sell beer. At urban, indoor events where tailgating is not common, selling alcohol inside the arena makes some sense. At the outdoor events, it may bring people out of the parking lots and into the stadium sooner (provided the prices aren’t at Gillette Stadium levels).
What do you think? Should beer and wine be sold at college athletic events, or should we all cool it for a couple of hours and just enjoy the games?