Walk through the tailgate area at a college football stadium, and beer drinking is as common a sight as fans adorned in jerseys of their favorite players.
A growing number of schools – including Syracuse and several schools in the Mid-American Conference – are bringing the party inside, opening taps in concourses that traditionally have been alcohol-free zones.
Most schools continue to keep alcohol restricted to premium seating areas, if they allow it at all. But offering alcohol is increasingly attractive for some campuses, especially for cash-strapped athletic departments outside the Power 5 conferences. Those schools, especially, are looking for ways to keep fans coming to their stadiums instead of sitting in front of their HD TVs at home or in sports bars.
They’re also encouraged by the schools that were among the first to sell alcohol and didn’t report an increase in bad behavior from students and other fans.
“Every institution is looking at how they can increase revenue streams, and alcohol is one of those,” said Jeff Schemmel, president of the consulting firm College Sports Solutions LLC. “Everything is on the table.”
There are 11 municipal stadiums where FBS teams are tenants and alcohol is available to the general public. The municipality usually keeps most, if not all, of the alcohol proceeds. The NCAA does not sell alcohol to the general public at its championship events. Schools and conferences are allowed to make their own policies.
According to an Associated Press survey of the 21 beer-selling schools that own and operate their stadiums, about half their concessions revenue is derived from alcohol.
Selling alcohol at college football games might seem counterintuitive at a time when there is so much concern about binge drinking on campuses. Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Jan Withers said her organization opposes any alcohol in a college environment because most of the students are under 21.
“Kids are watching adults all the time,” Withers said. “If they see the only way to have fun is to drink a lot, then they’re going to model after that. That’s not the message we want to be sending to them.”
Southern Methodist University reported no change in crowd behavior after alcohol was introduced at basketball games last season but saw huge gains in attendance. The average of 5,653 – the highest since 1984-85 – was up 64 percent over 2012-13.
The college football stadiums where alcohol will be sold to the general public this season include MAC schools Akron, Bowling Green, Kent State and Toledo, plus Syracuse. The other schools are Cincinnati, Colorado State, Houston, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisville, Minnesota, Nevada, North Texas, SMU, Troy. Tulane, UNLV, UTEP, Western Kentucky and West Virginia.