Josh Kendall

Millions could be made selling beer at college games, but at what cost?

Some college athletics officials believe, or at least are making the argument, that having beer available in general admission areas at college sports events will cut down on binge drinking before game.
Some college athletics officials believe, or at least are making the argument, that having beer available in general admission areas at college sports events will cut down on binge drinking before game. USA TODAY Sports

Hate to pile on so soon after baseball season has come to a pre-Omaha end for South Carolina, but there’s more bad news.

Had the Gamecocks reached the College World Series, and you been able to go to Nebraska to watch the games in person, you would have been able to buy a beer while you kicked back at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. For the first time, the NCAA will allow beer sales in general seating areas at a championship event. It won’t be the last time it happens, if all goes well in the judgment of the NCAA.

Some college athletics officials believe, or at least are making the argument, that having beer available in general admission areas at college sports events will cut down on binge drinking before game. (Beer has long been sold and/or available in premium seating areas at college athletics events, including at the University of South Carolina.) LSU athletics director Joe Alleva, the loudest voice in support of a change to the SEC bylaw which prevents alcohol sales in general seating areas, also admits that an added revenue stream is part of the equation.

Levy Restaurants, the vendor which is providing the alcohol at the College World Series, estimated that 400 servings of beer or wine would be sold per 1,000 fans, according to The Associated Press. Beers will sell for $6 and $7, and wine will sell for $8 and $9 at the CWS. So, let’s run that math for a college football game. If 100,000 people show up for a game, that’s 40,000 servings of alcohol sold. At an average price of $7.50, that’s an extra $300,000 per Saturday (minus the cost the vendor cost).

That’s $2.1 million per season for a team with the standard seven home games. Not a bad extra revenue stream.

This is something Alleva and LSU have been pushing for years. Here’s Alleva in a Baton Rouge Press Club meeting in 2014, via a USA Today Sports report: “As we talk about the fan experience, which is very important, I think there may come a day that we may sell beer at college events at LSU. I think at some point – I don't know if it will be five years from now, 10 years from now – but I think at some point, I think it’s going to happen.”

Of course the Tigers are talking the loudest in support of alcohol sales. If the “average” fan base will drink $2.1 million worth of alcohol a season, just imagine how much LSU fans could bolster the school’s coffers.

Alleva was pushing this point again at the SEC’s annual spring meetings earlier this month in Florida. No formal vote was taken this year, but it’s an issue that some in the conference are pushing closer and closer to the table.

“We will continue to talk about it,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “I don’t think we are divided at all. There are just different perspectives.”

Here’s the sensible perspective: Nope.

The argument that allowing alcohol in the stadiums will prevent binge drinking outside the stadiums sounds nice and tidy, in an academic sense, and not at all like what will actually happen in the real world.

“Any time you have prolific tailgating going on, you’re going to have people who always want to get those last few drinks in before they go into the game,” NCAA managing director of championships and alliances Ron Prettyman told The Associated Press. “We feel if the people have an opportunity to have a cold drink of their choice inside the stadium, and we can monitor it and limit it and make sure that people are of age, that could be very positive.”

American college kids, and American college football fans as a whole, may be falling behind the rest of the world in math, but they know the beers they’ve got in the cooler at their tailgate are a lot cheaper than $7 each. Having the ability to buy a beer in the stadium is hardly going to make a dent in their desire to have a few more in the parking lot.

Several schools around the country allow general seating alcohol sales currently, but at least two are reversing their policy after the Idaho State Board of Education this week revoked the exemption that allowed Boise State and the University of Idaho to sell alcohol last season. Let’s hope the NCAA reverses course as well.

“We always want to keep it a family-friendly atmosphere,” Prettyman told the AP about the decision to sell beer at the CWS, “and if there are problems with that, then we’ll absolutely carefully re-evaluate and see if we want to continue it. Everybody is watching it very closely.”

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