This summer, the SEC announced that it was ending its prohibition on alcohol sales at sanctioned sporting events. While this news made a surprisingly big splash in the sports world, most of the coverage around it was comedic — journalists and fans joking about how badly it could all go wrong come football season.
At first, my reaction was the same. I thought about how difficult it would be to monitor consumption and how rowdy the fanbases are without in-game alcohol sales. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?
Still, that position does not hold up well to a more thoughtful examination. In fact, there is plenty of reason to believe that introducing alcohol sales at Tech could provide a lot of benefits.
We can start by addressing the potential hazards. The fact is, people who want to be intoxicated at football games will be intoxicated at football games. Fans, from students to 65 year-old die-hards, have been imbibing on gamedays for as long there have been gamedays. At the moment, this is restricted to pre and post-game tailgates, which only encourages fans to drink excessively and keep a “buzz” on throughout the game.
It is possible that at least some of these individuals would drink just as excessively before the game and then continue drinking throughout the event, but allowing alcohol sales is just as likely to reduce pregame consumption. Granted, it is difficult to imagine the availability of $10 beers during a football game discouraging college students from getting blasted on grain alcohol mixed drinks before the game, but if students are not going to buy alcohol during the game anyways, then allowing alcohol sales will not affect their behavior at all.
There is even some evidence that introducing alcohol sales to college sporting events decreases bad fan behavior. The University of Maryland introduced alcohol sales at sporting events for the 2015-2016 academic year, and according to the Diamondback, drinking-related gameday ejections at football games declined from 61 the year prior to 18 in the first year of sales and 12 in the second. Over the same period, ejections from basketball games declined from 12, to seven, to zero.
This evidence is somewhat anecdotal, but in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, the NCAA conducted a more formal trial, serving alcohol at select post-season events in various sports. The results were a decrease in unruly behavior, often by significant margins.
Based on available evidence, then, alcohol sales are unlikely to worsen fan behavior and they may even improve it. Now for the benefits: alcohol sales would increase revenue for the athletic department while improving the fan-experience and possibly boosting attendance.
Granted, alcohol sales do not always increase profits, at least immediately. When Maryland introduced alcohol at their events, the program actually turned a loss in its first year. While the initiative began generating small profits in its second year, the sales are hardly a cash-cow for the athletic department there.
Still, alcohol sales would boost revenues indirectly by increasing attendance. Additionally, improving the fan experience broadens the fan base and gives the department a larger pool of potential donors and season ticket-buyers.
Although alcohol sales could have a big positive impact on football, if implemented correctly, non-revenue sports could have the most to gain from them. Sports like baseball, softball and women’s basketball constantly struggle to improve attendance, and like it or not, introducing alcohol sales at these events would make them more enticing for students.
Most students do not go to football and basketball games because they are passionate about the sports. Rather, they go because the games are social events that provide a fun all-around experience. The same cannot be said for the students that attend non-revenue sporting events, and alcohol sales could help to change that.
If reasonably-priced drinks were available at a Friday night baseball or softball game, it is easy to imagine those games becoming major campus events that students look forward to and attend for a fun all-around experience, like football games are now.
A critical phrase there is “reasonably-priced.” If alcohol is introduced, it should not just be a gameday feature for alumni who are willing to buy massively overpriced concessions. $10 beer and wine is not going to improve student attendance at Tech’s non-revenue sporting events, but at $3 it just might.
Implementing alcohol sales at non-revenue sports could provide serious benefits for students, fans, the athletic department and even the athletes themselves. In fact, the best solution might be to allow alcohol sales exclusively at these events.
While sales could benefit football and men’s basketball as well, the initiative would also be much more difficult to implement at these larger-scale sporting events than at smaller games, where there are fewer ID’s to check and fewer concession stands to retrofit.
With such a small risk for harm and so many potential benefits, one has to wonder: why shouldn’t Tech introduce alcohol sales?
The historical reasons for banning alcohol sales at athletic events do not justify depriving less popular sports of the increases in engagement and revenue they stand to gain from a change in the policy.