Like It Or Not, Maryland Needs To Sell Beer At Games


November 19, 2012;College Par, MD, USA; Maryland president Wallace Loh speaks during the Big Ten Press Conference at Adele Stamp Union. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Note: I am fully aware that with the move to the Big Ten, Maryland appears to finally be out of the disastrous 2004-2013 financial situation and well on their way to $100 million by 2020 in revenue accrued. I bring up this topic up, seemingly at random, because if the University of Maryland is serious about stabilizing their athletic budget, they need to start looking at diversifying their revenue streams. That subject, without question, includes the topic of selling swill at football and basketball games as a way of making major guacamole.

In the United States, alcohol is still considered slightly taboo, with the same sort of slimy stigma associated with it that comes from, say, hanging around John Calipari for long stretches of time (I kid). Despite having a typically negative connotation surrounding it, it’s tough to ignore the reality that alcohol and athletics are intricately linked. Booze is consumed at athletic events whether before at a tailgate, during in mini-bottles, or after at post-game celebrations. The selling of it at games is where things get hung up in college athletics.

Let’s get a few numbers and facts out of the way when dealing with the issue:

  • There is no NCAA rule about alcohol sales at a universities home stadium. Only at NCAA sponsored bowl games and championships do some of their restrictions apply.
  • Only 13 major FBS schools currently sell beer at games. Included in that group, among others? Syracuse, Louisville, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.
  • Many schools, (including Maryland) in the SEC and most other conferences, sell alcohol during games but limit it to the luxury suites and boxes.
  • Maryland permits alcohol in the luxury suites in Byrd Stadium, but doesn’t allow it to the general public.
  • Revenue generated varies school-by-school, and some don’t disclose those numbers. Of those that did, Minnesota generated $900,000 in 2012 and West Virginia had over $500,000 in profit in their first year (2011).
  • Alcohol sales are not synonymous with an uptick in crime. At West Virginia, alcohol-related incidents decreased by 64.9% with the introduction of beer sales.

The reason I point out some of those facts is to assure that, were Maryland to wet the beaks at Byrd Stadium or Comcast Arena, they would not become trendsetters, but they would certainly not be in the majority. As I said before, the issue is taboo for colleges that don’t want to be associated with alcohol sales on their campus being a part of their revenue stream. But one thing that is undeniable is that schools are still looking at the option because of the money it brings into the school.

The University of Louisville decided to sell $1 beers at their Spring Game to try and drive up attendance. The University of Texas-Austin, the most profitable football program in America, is actively looking into distributing alcohol at their football games. The amount of revenue Texas could gain from that, in a stadium that seats 100,000+, is no small chunk of change even to them. Northern Iowa is also looking into selling alcohol at games, even though their own president was once firmly against it.

Schools like the University of Maryland don’t have the luxury of taking any money-making options off the table, because like it or not, they have a serious debt issue that needs to be resolved. The school needs to start getting creative about generating money in a game (collegiate athletics) that is all about money. It’s no secret that attendance at Maryland’s football and basketball games has dwindled significantly in recent years because of their lack of success on the field. With the move to the Big Ten coming soon, the Terrapins have a golden opportunity to tap into a massive revenue stream and mitigate some of their budgetary dilemmas.

It’s almost a 100% certainty that Maryland is going to see a big-time increase in attendance when teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, and to an extent Rutgers, come into town in 2014 and beyond. Increased foot traffic, depending on the weather and time of the game, usually points to a direct increase in concessions. Why not try to bolster that revenue stream by getting the stadium seats a little more lubed up in the process?

To be sure, permitting the sale of beer at the stadium most certainly won’t have the same effect on attendance as producing a winning product. It’s no coincidence that attendance plummeted as the Terrapins started losing more and more football and basketball games, and with ticket prices still mirroring the success from the early-to-mid 2000’s in basketball and football, fans are even less inclined to shell out for a ticket. Winning comes first in gaining more attendance, especially in a metropolitan area that can be fair-weathered in their fanhood.

But the facts don’t lie that beer sales put some people in seats, keeps people in their seats longer, and makes fans spend more money. Collegiate athletics has now become, put simply, a business, and if you sell beer, it is usually a smart decision. Professional sports teams sell it for a reason, and there’s a reason why the colleges that do sell it aren’t going to stop all of the sudden; it makes money and doesn’t deter many fans. If anything, it gives them just a little added incentive to stay in the stadiums while watching their favorite teams play.

Maryland needs to have some kind of incentive offering, now more than ever, to convince the occasional fan that coming to a game has some perks to soften the blow of expensive ticket prices and paying for parking to tailgate responsibly. Now you wouldn’t have to leave the game early to drink more beer; it’s available at the stadium. The mind of the college fan is, “If they don’t let you drink it in the stadium, pregame harder!” That entire mentality could change with beer distribution and regulation (say, two or three per game) at the stadium. And it brings money into the university.

That says nothing about the potential for revenue accrued by way of agreements with corporations and sponsors. College football and basketball, especially at Maryland, is past the stage where big businesses attached on stadium names or concession stands is weird. It’s all about money through advertising nowadays, and if that means calling your football arena Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium, then that’s what it’ll get called to bring home the bacon.

It’s a certainty that a company like Anheuser-Busch realizes the advantage of being the sole distributor at a Big Ten football stadium or hoops arena. It’s advertisement that will likely be conducive to strong sales in the future outside of athletics in and around Maryland. They’d be willing to throw plenty of money Maryland’s way if a compelling argument was made about how they’d stand to benefit from a move like this.

You look at Louisville, which plays their basketball games at the KFC Yum! Center. While you may laugh at the name, it’s hard to argue with the data:  in 2011, the basketball team was the most profitable in the country despite not having the biggest stadium by any stretch. Concessions obviously played a factor in that number, and even if it’s not an absolutely massive number, it’s still significant.

Maryland can further tap into that market, and again, with more foot traffic coming in the future, can profit from that as well.

And perhaps the most important reason why Maryland should consider selling beer at their basketball and football games is because of how much it could help fans out. Maryland students and fans are bludgeoned with fee after fee to fund the athletic department. Ticket prices have recently gone down, but for years remained at the ridiculous prices (in both basketball and football) that the successful basketball and football teams of the early 2000’s commanded. More and more, fans have to pay out the wazoo.

Consider that in 2011, Louisville students had to pay $1.8 million in student fees to their athletics department in total. At the University of Maryland? $9.5 million. A lot of that has to do with mismanagement, and results in Maryland throwing ticky-tack fees at students around every corner. Even just a tiny amount of relief for students and fans would be noticeable given how much they already pay, which is higher than most in the nation by far. Selling beer can help do that.

Yes, there are risk factors involved. Maryland has long been known for their notoriously raucous fans. Adding alcohol into that mix without proper regulation can concoct a nasty problem that may only become worse over time. The Terrapins would have to very seriously look at their security plans, and enact rules that would ensure that no fans were at risk with the addition of beer at games.

(Some schools have already thought of that, like Lousiville; they come up a lot as they seem to have the method down. Their school has an alcohol free section cordoned off in their stadium to ensure that the people who would be offended by it, aren’t.)

They’d also have to work out a proper contractual agreement with concessions companies, so they don’t get swindled like Minnesota did out of money. But logistical barriers should not hinder Maryland from enacting something like this, and a lively discussion about the merits of it, especially for a cash strapped school, should be held at some point this year or in the future.

To completely dismiss it as a drunken rambling would be foolish.