Should SEC football stadiums sell alcohol?

NCAA Football: Alabama at Kentucky

Arkansas announced plans to start selling beer and wine to premium ticketholders at football games starting this fall. Is this the start of a trend towards loosening general alcohol restrictions in the SEC? Probably not. A combination of regional, political and economic factors will likely keep the majority of SEC stadiums “dry” for the forseeable future.

SEC Policy

According to Chuck Dunlap, the SEC’s director of communications, conference policy prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to most fans during SEC home games:

No alcoholic beverages shall be sold or dispensed for public consumption anywhere in the facility and the possession and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages in the public areas of the facility shall be prohibited. These prohibitions shall not apply to private, leased areas in the facility or other areas designated by the SEC. There shall be no advertising displays mentioning or promoting alcoholic beverages in the facility.

Arkansas plans to sell alcohol to Reynolds Razorback Stadium’s 8,950 club seats, which represents only about 12% of the facility’s normal football capacity. Other SEC schools, like Auburn and Alabama, do not sell alcohol directly to premium seatholders but do allow them to bring in such beverages from the outside. Beer is also generally sold in bowl games where SEC schools participate.

It’s not clear what would happen if any SEC member unilaterally defied the conference “policy” and started selling beer or wine to all ticketholders (of legal drinking age, of course). The policy referenced by Dunlap does not appear in the formal SEC Constitution or Bylaws, and there’s no mention of any enforcement mechanism. In 2009, LSU athletic department official Herb Vincent referred to the policy as more of an “unsaid decision that’s been made among the league schools that we’re not going to sell alcohol.” He added that LSU, which permits premium seatholders to bring their own booze, might reconsider its policy if other SEC members followed suit.

For his part, LSU Head Coach Les Miles said in 2011 he would support selling beer to the fans at Tiger Stadium, although he added, “I fear that the upper decks might not hold it.”

Southern Tradition

The SEC’s reluctance to embrace alcohol is understandable given both the federally-imposed legal drinking age of 21—which excludes the majority of undergraduates who attend football games—as well as the prohibitionist mentality still present in many southern states. At least six SEC states still have “dry” counties where the sale or possession of any alcoholic beverage remains illegal. For example, a majority of counties in Arkansas completely or partially ban liquor. In Mississippi and Tennessee, counties must expressly permit the sale of alcohol. On the flip side, Missouri and Louisiana are among the most permissive states when it comes to liquor. In fact, both Tulane University—which plays at the NFL’s Louisiana Superdome—and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette have sold beer at football games.

And while it might seem like a financial no-brainer to sell alcohol at football games, consider beer taxes tend to be much higher in the south than in other parts of the country. A recent study by the Tax Foundation found that Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina were among the six highest beer-tax states in the nation. Even if beer were sold at stadiums in those states, fans might well decide to just keep tailgating before the game and foregoing the additional tax-and-markup that would inevitably apply to in-stadium sales.

Who Really Benefits?

Indeed, some non-SEC schools have found beer and wine don’t exactly lead to a pot of gold. Last year the University of Minnesota—admittedly not a top-tier football school—reported a $16,000 loss on the sale of alcohol at football games despite generating almost $900,000 in gross revenues. One reason for this loss was that most of the revenue didn’t go to the university or the athletic department, but to Aramark, the outside contractor that holds the beer-and-wine contract. Aramark is a global food services company that generates more than $13.5 billion in annual revenues, a good chunk of which comes from running concessions at colleges and stadiums.

Similarly, Arkansas has a contract with Sodexo, a French-based food services conglomerate with about $16 billion in annual revenues. Sodexo runs all of Arkansas’ athletics concessions, and they will be the primary beneficiary of the new beer-and-wine policy. The benefit to Arkansas will be incidental at best.

SEC schools are not exactly strapped for football revenue. And while there may be a modest economic benefit to expanding beer sales inside stadiums, it’s probably not enough to alter existing SEC policy. For some schools, any financial gains would be offset by additional enforcement costs, such as checking IDs.

And most SEC presidents and athletic directors simply don’t want to be perceived as endorsing alcohol use, no matter how much it’s part of the culture of college football. Consider the SEC’s official stance against the use of the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” moniker to describe the annual Florida-Georgia game. The present ban maintains the politically correct compromise of opposing liquor inside the stadium while tolerating its use on the outside—not to mention those who simply sneak hooch into the game. Bootlegging, after all, is another proud southern tradition.

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COMMENTS

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  • Everyone deserves to be able to go to an SEC football game and be treated with common manners and not have to observe drunken behavior with the game. Will the behavior of fans get better or worse with alcohol sold inside the stadium? If we can’t go for 3 hours without drinking we need a ticket for the rehab center. As it stands we can drink for hours before the game and for hours afterwards. I think that’s enough. Stay outside, insult people, and pick fights. SEC football games are where many of the hardest working young men in college gather to perform, don’t pollute their performance with somebodies low life behavior. Sure some drink and are perfect gentlemen, but then there are the ones who will ruin a 12 hour drive for guests, puke on the back of your new jacket, pass out and lay all over everyone, add liquor to their already death ray breath, fall down and bleed on your pants when you try to help them up, make the rest rooms impossible to get into, and not be able to read that they are 40 rows too low and in your seat.

    • Well put. Alcohol available to college-aged, and slightly older, adults is not a good idea.

      • Thanks Dawg, I missed the game at GA last year, but when the GA fans came up Missouri 2012, (first SEC contest), It was a text book example of how a game can be hotly contested but still have great manners rule the atmosphere. Remember this was the game right after Dave Matter from the Columbia Tribune baited Sheldon Richardson into the Old Man Football comment by telling him he should be watching Georgia play every Sat. on TV. After the game a fun and sober mannered chant went up in the GA corner “Grown Man Football”, and even the Missouri fans had to laugh about it. Put alcohol in there and some drunk might start punching your ‘big head’ thinking somebody is getting in his face. grin. Hey Dawg, I can’t wait to hear some news from GA practice sessions about the quarterback practices. Let us know when the ACJ starts talkin about it. At Missouri we are excited to see if Steward RB gets promoted. Also we have a really talented ATH Hosick that we are hoping will move from QB to another position because we think he will be a mover and shaker if he gets on the field somewhere other than QB.

      • I think this attitude is somewhat naive. People drink gallons of alcohol tailgating football games. I think individual schools should be free to make their own rules. I do think it’s a weird class distinction to allow rich fans in suites to drink, but not trust your average blue-collar football fan to buy a beer while he watches his favorite team.

        I don’t like people being told what they cannot do. We’re all adults. The NFL seems to have games weekly without riots and debauchery. Trust your fanbase to be respectful and at the same time let freedom ring!

  • Why was beer/wine available in Jax when FSU/Bama played there a few years ago? Why is beer/wine available to Club Level seats and not the general seating at the SEC Championship game? Are Bowl game not NCAA sanctioned events? Why is beer/wine available at those games? It would make sense to me to have a uniform alcohol policy but this is the very same institution that can’t mandate an across-the-board drug testing/punishment policy from league to league or even school to school. I do not personally feel the potential added bad behavior and resultant poor game day experience would be offset by any monetary gains for the schools.

    • I know illegal drinking happens in every SEC stadium, I’ve done it in the past. What I don’t like to see happen is exactly what happened to my family at the SC/UGA game this year. A loud mouthed overly drunk UGA fan started to curse and yell slurs at my 12-year old daughter at the red light in front of the Tate Center garage. I was prepared to defend my daughter and take whatever necessary actions I needed to take to keep my family safe. I know this happens at every SEC home game and I’m not calling out UGA fans by any means. I don’t want more fans/students thinking the sale of alcohol inside the stadiums gives them the right to act like this. Plus, not to mention, how hard would it be to police when someone has had too much. Most of the concession employees are part time employees and the concession companies would have to spend the additional money to provide the training needed for these folks to read the signs of when enough is enough for someone…

      • I’m sure it may vary from state to state, but in most states someone has to be a certain age to sell or handle alcohol. So that’s something else the concessions company would have to do. Lots of workers are part-time college kids. Not all of them would be of age to sell or handle so they would have to hire and train more people

  • Skip, this is a great article on a complex situation for the 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference. I wish there were statistics on how much alcohol is consumed by SEC fans during tailgating and what percentage of fans each gameday sneak liquor into the stadium.

  • We’re allowed to drink alcohol during bowl games, and here’s how some fans handle that: http://www.saturdaydownsouth.com/2014/alabama-fan-fight-oklahoma/

  • Doesn’t really matter to those that “have” to have a drink in the stadium. They are going to sneak it in anyway. Many drink before & after at their tailgate, so a 3-hour “break” from drinking is probably good for most.

  • Bad idea!! Very bad idea!
    Sounds like a plan to make more $$ in the stadium. This will not stop drunks from entering the stadium and students will still be sneaking in their miniatures. I do not relish the idea of sitting behind, in front of or beside someone who will continue their partying in the stadium. This is not the NFL!! So NO,NO,NO to alcohol sold in the stadium

  • Personally, I love LSU football. But, I don’t go to too many games because of the atmosphere. The fact that I am guaranteed to see, hear, and smell things that are not exactly “awesome” has kept me away the past few seasons. I’ve seen it with LSU fans as well as other schools’ fans when I’ve visited those campuses. Honestly, my friends and family typically go to the spring game each year as it is much more family friendly. I love football as much as anybody, but I don’t like wearing someone’s beer, hearing obscenities, or seeing someone naked or severely close to it. I can only imagine how selling alcohol would make it worse. I love Tiger Stadium and want to go to games from time to time, so please don’t make the drunken fan experience worse.

    • Thanks, and it is very important to the league to keep every seat in the stadium available to people who love football. There are lots of seats at sport bars for people who love drunken football

  • I just don’t see this happening. Perhaps it could after Mike Slive retires, and maybe schools could have their option to sell at games.

  • If you went to an SEC school and were involved you understand what a 3:30 or 6:00 game means, if you think we haven’t already mastered sneaking minis into games you sir are oblivious

    • Which is why I don’t see them making it legal. Most of the ones sneaking it in are under age anyway so it wouldn’t affect them

    • Sure you could get smashed and then go in, bu it is a lot harder to get more smashed and it is a lot harder to become worse behaved if you can’t buy the alcohol once you get there. the whole act of sneaking requires that you modify your behavior so officials don’t know you are a trouble maker when you pass the gate.

  • As much as I would love to booze it up during a game, I think this would be a REALLY bad idea.

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