Why Schools Should Embrace Selling Beer at College Football Games

The decision to sell alcohol at football games is up to individual universities, and most have chosen to keep their stadiums dry. But as some schools have shown, the profits might prove too big to resist.

David Stegon
David Stegon
Jul 16, 2014 at 2:54PM
The Business

The NCAA likes to regulate just about everything -- but not the sale of alcoholic drinks at college sporting events. The decision to sell beer inside stadiums falls on the individual schools. And it's growing in popularity.

That makes it a little surprising that the University of Texas announced last week that it will continue its policy of not selling beer or wine at the school's football games.

The decision could cause the school to miss out on about $1 million in revenue. That might not be a huge deal in Texas, where the athletics department brings in $167.7 million in revenue, easily the highest of any in college athletics. But after the success of early adopters like West Virginia University, you can expect other schools to tap into this trend.

Taking the moral high ground
For Texas, the case against serving alcohol at the games is a moral one. With students and families attending the games, the school feels that serving alcoholic beverages would take away from the family atmosphere it is trying to create.

The 14 member schools of the Southeastern Conference, or SEC, the premier division in college football, agree. They want to take drinking and the sometimes drunken and rowdy behavior of fans out of the game.

The SEC does not allow any of its member schools to sell alcohol at games. But the rest of college football is open to do as they please.

Here's the thing, though: College kids will drink whether you allow it inside the stadium or not. Trying to stop drinking at games altogether simply will not work.

A case study
That's what West Virginia University figured out when it examined the issue a few years ago. Instead of buying drinks in the stadium, people -- students, especially -- were over-drinking in the parking lot before going into the stadium or sneaking liquor underneath their clothes.

Some would even leave the stadium at halftime to polish off a couple more drinks before the game resumed. The result: Fans over-served themselves in order to stay buzzed throughout the game.

When the university changed course in 2011 and let patrons buy alcohol in the stadium, it saw a big change. By allowing alcohol sales in the game, the university was able to police the amount people drank and make a little money in the process. What it got was a slight drop in drinking-related arrests and an additional $500,000 in revenue.

That money was a nice bonus for an athletics department that made about $8.5 million in profit for the university last year. Schools with large stadiums such as Texas, which can seat more than 100,000 fans per game, stand to make even more.

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A look across college football
Approximately 25 of the 126 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, college football's highest level, allow for alcohol sales in their stadiums. The majority of those schools, including Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, and Tulane, are in metropolitan areas.

The schools allow drinking to help in a competitive entertainment marketplace. Some of these schools also sell alcohol at other popular collegiate sporting events such as basketball games and baseball games.

With this opportunity to bring in extra revenue, expect more schools to follow suit, especially if other schools have situations like West Virginia, where fan behavior actually got better.

"Primarily economics would drive it," Alabama Athletics Director Bill Battle told USA Today. "The disadvantages are security and fan behavior and other things that go with that. And so it's a trade-off. It is done successfully in places throughout the country. We're in the Bible Belt; we may not be the first ones to do that. But certainly we would consider it. Whether we do it or not, I don't know."

College football is a major revenue stream for many of the top universities -- although some schools do lose money on the sport -- and college sports have never been shy about trying to maximize profits.

In the end, economics will drive this decision. Alcohol is coming to more college football games. It's too lucrative not to.