Universities reverse course, start selling alcohol at sporting events: MSU next?

May 7, 2017

Binge drinking is an issue on college campuses, especially before sporting events. Some schools are looking toward selling alcohol themselves to control the problem.

Universities used to fight having alcohol present in their sporting arenas. The NCAA bans it from venues hosting championship events. However, that trend may be changing, as there are now over 32 universities selling alcohol in stadiums at their collegiate events.

The main reason, according those adding alcohol service, is to strike at the issue of binge drinking before games. There is too much public intoxication, as tailgating starts early in the morning on game day and can continue for hours.             

According to “Sober Info”, half of all college students report binge drinking in the last 30 days, and 30 percent of binge-drinkers are age 26 or under. A recent University of Michigan Institute for Social Research study reported that 24 percent of students between ages 19 and 20 said they drank five or more drinks on a single occasion, 10 percent reported 10 or more and four percent reported 15 or more.                                           

In the Big Ten, only Minnesota and Maryland sell beer and wine in their football stadiums. Michigan State, and other Big Ten schools such as Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers and Wisconsin only allow alcohol to be consumed in premium seating areas such as suites. Northwestern, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Indiana, and Iowa remain dry.

The Big Ten has not taken a policy stance on in-stadium alcohol sales, leaving the decision up to individual universities.

Michigan State University Police does not see having possible alcohol sales at the Breslin or Spartan Stadium as a bad thing. They’re quite busy on game days, thanks to alcohol-related issues stemming from tailgaters.

“It kind of depends on game times,” said Michigan State University Lt. Shaun Mills. “During the night games, we typically have more issues with alcohol problems because our tailgating hours allow them to drink longer hours so we run into things like MIP’s or being incapacitated.”

According to Mills, it would make sense for MSU to sell inside Spartan Stadium – as people probably wouldn’t drink a lot before they go into a game since they could get it inside. 

“Maybe it would cut down on the incapacitated issues, it sounds like it may help with that problem.”

Michigan State’s Event Management department did not respond to interview requests to discuss possible alcohol sales at sporting venues on campus.

The alcohol abuse issue is also important at the University of Michigan, where sporting events frequently lead to problems.

“I get an e-mail notification every time that there is an incident in our housing facilities,” said Michael Hill, who is the human resources operations manager for student life at Michigan. “During the football season, these incidents go up and being intoxicated has a lot to do with it. I do not think the University should sell alcohol because we have a serious issue with underage drinking and binge drinking on campus.”

Hill believes selling in alcohol general areas could change the collegiate culture due to underage drinking and alcohol abuse on campuses around the country. 

“I am not saying that not selling alcohol solves the problem but it’s a great start,” he said.

Minnesota has been selling beer and wine at TCF Bank Stadium, its football venue, and things are going well.  Sales in Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena have been available in premium seating.

“We had heard from our fans that they would appreciate this option, so we explored instituting sales at the stadium with university and government leadership, found an effective process to do it efficiently and safely, and we've continued selling since that point,” said Associate Director of Communications Jacob Ricker.

The school, however, did have concerns about selling to the public. Ensuring that the sales and consumption were done safely was their top priority. Sales start one hour before kickoff and stop at the end of halftime. Patrons are limited to two beverages, per person, per transaction. 

When Minnesota began selling beer and wine in the general areas, they used some of the revenue generated through sales to add additional law enforcement to provide mandatory alcohol education programs for employees and students. 

“We have not seen an increase in safety or security issues since we began selling beer and wine more widely at TCF Bank Stadium. In fact, we had our fewest number of incidents at the stadium this past season (2016),” said Ricker. 

Sales have been going well since the school started selling beer in their football stadium with revenue topping at $1.2 million last year, according to Ricker.

“When you sell at an actual sporting event you do card, so it’s not like someone could actually come in and drink illegally. So as long as your security standards are up to par, and you’re able to police it a certain way with extra security I feel like it's no reason it shouldn’t be sold, considering some of the population at the games are people of age,” said Asiah White, a social media correspondent for Community TV Network Chicago.

If schools are on the fence about selling to general areas, Minnesota could be looked at as an example to see that there may not be anything to worry about after all. 

“It sounds like from the problems they had before – to the problems they had after, it seems that the problems didn’t go up and some say that they went down. So in that respect from what happens there, I would be for it,” said Mills.