The availability of alcohol at professional sporting events is a long-held tradition, and in this day and age where the almighty dollar rules with an iron fist, it's been a point of emphasis for many teams. Over the last decade there have been an increasing number of FBS schools that have looked into and have added alcohol sales to their game day concessions. Currently, 32 of the 128 FBS member institutions have alcohol sales during their games, up from only six a decade ago.
There has been much speculation among fans as to whether or not the University at Buffalo would join the ranks of the other FBS institutions in selling alcohol at UB Stadium and Alumni Arena. Currently, you can technically get alcohol at UB Stadium if you're a member of the Blue and White Club and contribute annually to the Football Game Day Benefits Fund, which grants you access to the Champions Club at UB Stadium.
The lay of the land in college athletics is quite diverse among the institutions that offer alcoholic beverages at their sporting events; from the Google Map below you can see that geographically, the institutions are evenly spread between the East coast, Midwest, and south, with only a few institutions out West selling alcohol.
From a conference standpoint, the majority of those selling alcohol in the stadiums do not belong to any of the Power 5 Conferences. It should be noted that the SEC bans the sale of alcohol in its member institutions' stadiums, while the remaining conferences leave the decision to the institution. The Sun Belt is among the conferences with the most member institutions selling alcohol at athletics events with five schools selling.
Why UB Would Want to Sell Alcohol
New Revenue Streams
Under Athletic Director Danny White's ambitious New York Bulls Initiative, creating revenue streams and maximizing profits to invest in capital projects to improve the UB Athletics infrastructure is paramount to the Initiative's success. In addition to the aggressive capital projects that the Athletic Director has planned, the cost of running an athletic department as a whole is not getting any cheaper. According to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the median operating spending for intercollegiate athletics increased by 43 percent between 2004 and 2008, and is still rising at an annual rate of seven percent.
While the spending is growing at an alarming rate, the median revenue of intercollegiate athletics programs only grew by 33 percent over that same stretch. With the recent closure of the UAB Blazers football program (and then reopening after public backlash) citing rising costs of fielding the team, it put the issue in front of nearly every sports fan in America and ignited discussions on revenue streams and if fielding teams are worth it.
Additionally, O'Bannon v NCAA may levy further costs against programs for using the likeness of student athletes while the increases in student aid to cover the full cost of attendance will result in an additional $2,000-$5,000 spent per student athlete. Consequentially, athletics departments have been looking to new avenues to increase revenue to keep their departments financially viable. Alcohol has been high on the list for two reasons, both of which would be a boon to UB: increased attendance, particularly among students and young adults, and increased concession sales.
When West Virginia University began alcohol sales the university reported over $500,000 in new revenue tied to concession sales from alcohol. Additionally, Troy University estimated that they would generate an additional $200,000 in revenue from alcohol sales during its inaugural season. A revenue increase of this magnitude for UB would be of an extreme benefit to the NYBI and the planned capital projects, or to accomodate increasing coaching salaries or other areas of need.
According to an article at CBS Sports, college football attendance reached its lowest average in 14 years during the 2014 season. According to a study performed by the Wall Street Journal, college football home attendance by students between 2009 and 2013 was down by 7.1 percent for all Bowl Subdivision institutions.
So what better way to encourage more UB students to attend home football games and basketball games? Beer!
When Louisiana-Monroe instituted alcohol sales in 2013 it was found that attendance, particularly among students increased by 34.1 percent. If there is an incentive for students to attend games, and if UB could see similar gains in student attendance it would be just what the university and its teams need.
Buffalo Beer Culture
Each community has its own views regarding its ‘drinking culture' and Buffalo, in particular, has a strong culture centered on local micro-breweries and the larger Canadian beer companies headquartered within the city. That being said, UB adding local craft brews to the concession selection could be a natural progression and would allow UB to reach out and connect with more local businesses, further strengthening UB's ties in Western New York.
Why UB Would Not Want To Sell Alcohol
UB is trying to promote an environment that will be conducive to all types of fans attending and enjoying their stay from young kids through adults. Given the price point to attend, collegiate sports can be a more lucrative option for families to attend rather than attend a professional sporting event. That being said, the mix of alcohol and the family-friendly environment that UB is trying to promote may not be healthy for business. The National Football League has experienced problems with abusive language, profanity and violence that are associated with alcohol consumption. Obviously UB is on a smaller scale than an NFL team, but the risk of violence and a non-family-friendly environment may be enough to sway UB from instituting alcohol sales.
Safety / Legal Concerns
Each institution that is considering in-stadium alcohol sales will need to check with local, state, and conference regulations to see if any restrictions exist. For example, as noted above, the SEC bans alcohol sales by the member institutions:
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
In New York State, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control exercises alcoholic beverage control functions through the NYS Liquor Authority. UB would need to obtain a retail license to be able to purchase, stock, and sell alcohol. There are no restrictions in the Mid-American Conference for selling alcohol in stadiums; in fact several MAC members sell alcohol in their stadiums.
Also, UB would be held liable under the New York State Dram Shop Laws, which place liability on drinking establishments for serving alcohol to persons that are already intoxicated. As such, the seller may be held liable for damages to a third party who is injured as a result of the sale of alcohol. These laws may be enough for UB to not sell alcohol due to the risk of lawsuits by fans who may be injured if an intoxicated fan gets unruly.
After analyzing the pros and cons of allowing alcohol sales at athletics events at UB, it is still quite unclear as to what exactly the department will look to do in the near future. On one hand, the need for increased revenue streams to remain competitive amongst FBS peers will become direr as the costs of running an athletic department continues to increase. On the other hand, the risk of being held liable for the actions of intoxicated fans may be enough for UB to nix the idea because the lawsuits may eliminate the revenue that alcohol will generate.
So what are your thoughts?