Alcohol use on college campuses is usually restricted and historically, has been prohibited inside most stadiums. As of August 1, 2019, a vote by university presidents and chancellors lifts the alcohol ban for Southeastern Conference (SEC) college football stadiums. The SEC is joining multiple other organizations nationwide that are allowing alcohol to be sold at sporting events. The effective date of this vote will coincide with the beginning of college football season, which starts on August 24, 2019.

Although the vote was not unanimous, the SEC is seeking ways to ever increase its revenue and earnings. Allowing alcohol sales is a way to incentivize more people to buy tickets. Of the 14 schools in the SEC, it is estimated that at least half will begin selling alcohol in their stadiums in the 2019-20 season.

What’s Changing?

A decade ago, less than 12 schools known for their football programs allowed alcohol sales at college football games in their stadiums. Now, more than 50 schools sell beer during football games. Providing stadium bars seems to be a growing trend. Before the new ruling, alcohol sales for SEC football games have been limited to suites or other premium or private areas of the stadium. Now, the schools within the conference are allowed to decide if they would like to offer alcohol sales within their stadiums.

This new rule comes with guidelines that schools must follow if they decide to sell alcohol including:

  • Beer and wine can be sold
  • Liquor cannot be sold
  • A drink limit will likely be in place per transaction
  • Alcohol is dispensed in designated receptacles
  • No vendors in the stands will sell alcohol
  • There will be a defined time to stop selling alcohol

Many school officials and fans have advocated for this move for years. The revenue potential alone is significant. Fans often tailgate before games. This motion could move some of those festivities into the stadium, where some claim they are safer and more controlled.

What Schools Have Announced to Sell?

While all 14 team presidents participated in this vote, four schools have already publicly indicated they won’t be selling alcohol in their stadiums this fall including Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State. There are seven schools who have made preliminary statements that indicate they may move forward with implementing alcohol sales including:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Missouri
  3. Tennessee
  4. Vanderbilt
  5. South Carolina
  6. Florida
  7. Arkansas

The Motive Behind Alcohol Sales at Games

Alcohol sales at college football games may be a financial jackpot. According to statistics published in Forbes, Ohio State netted more than $1.2 million from beer sales at football games. Preliminary estimates include significant figures up to $1 million for schools that institute beer and wine sales under this new rule.

Officials also make claims that serving alcohol inside the stadium provides actual advantages socially and limits violence or illness due to binge drinking. There are some surprising official and anecdotal elements that may indicate that alcohol sales within the stadium limit alcohol-related incidents. Since it began serving alcohol at its stadium, Ohio State has seen a significant decrease in alcohol-related ejections. Officials have suggested that legal alcohol purchases eliminate pre-game binge drinking and illegally concealed alcohol at games.

The Consequences: Financial Leverage, Stadium Attendance, Alcohol Abuse, Underage Drinking, and Binge Drinking

While revenue likely plays a large role in allowing alcohol sales at athletic events, there are some troubling potential consequences to consider. Binge drinking on college campuses is an increasing problem:

  • More than a third of college students reported binge drinking in the prior month
  • About 20% of college students meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder
  • A quarter of college students report negative academic consequences as a result of their alcohol consumption
  • Alcohol is a factor in almost 700,000 assaults involving students each year
  • More than 1,800 college students die annually from alcohol-related injuries, including car crashes

Binge drinking in college and underage drinking in college are significant problems that can lead to lifelong alcohol addiction. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2015, almost 40% of students admitted to binge drinking within the past month. Underage drinking is also a concern. While stadiums will have to submit to state standards for legal drinking age and verifying identity, enforcing these standards in the stadiums could be challenging or costly.

It may be worthwhile for decision-makers to remember that college students are young adults who are susceptible to alcohol abuse and addiction. It remains to be seen how the loosening rules around alcohol at college football games will influence income and fan behavior, but taking a look at alcohol and the NFL may shed some light on the future of alcohol in college stadiums.

Alcohol Use Amongst NFL Attendees

The National Football League (NFL) has long been associated with drinking beer. Beer brands have leveraged this through sponsorships and heavily targeted advertising. Average beer sales at an NFL game can exceed $500,000 per game.

Alcohol sales at sporting events represent a significant source of income. Many NFL stadiums also allow liquor to be sold, which is often sold at a higher price point, generating even more money in sales.

But those sales may be coming at a price. In 2015, the police chief of Santa Clara, California (home to the San Francisco 49ers) reported an average of 30 arrests each game day. A few of those instances were violent and highly publicized leading many to wonder if alcohol contributed to the situation. In 2008, the NFL Security Advisory Group told the league, “Your fan base is starting to change in some of your stadiums, you’re getting 21- to 35-year-olds that are coming to do nothing but just binge drink … and for every person who is an idiot in the stands, [that person] impacts 25 other patrons.”

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