West Virginia University says it has found a profitable way to curb excessive drinking at home football games: sell beer at concession stands.
By tapping kegs at Mountaineer Field, West Virginia has added $700,000 to the athletic department and reduced the number of incidents in which police were called because of excessive drinking by around 30 percent, Athletic Director Oliver Luck said in an interview.
The Morgantown-based university, which is preparing to leave the Big East Conference for the Big 12, made the decision to sell beer at its seven home football games this season after discussions with police at the campus, city and state levels, Luck said on Dec. 7 following the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York.
“No athletic director is going to push beer sales through with the cops saying, ‘What? You’re crazy,’” he said. “The alcohol consumption was significant, as it is at a lot of schools, and we felt this is a way to get better control of it.”
West Virginia, with an undergraduate enrollment of 22,717, is one of 20 schools in college football’s 120-team top tier, including Louisville and Cincinnati, to sell beer to the public at football games, double what it was 10 years ago, according to the Des Moines Register.
Schools and conferences can set guidelines on alcohol sales during sports events, according to Erik Christianson, a spokesman for the Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association. Alcohol sales are banned at NCAA championships.
Beer sales at the University of Louisiana’s five home games this season brought in an additional $150,000 in revenue, about a third of the school’s concessions intake, school spokesman John Dugas said in an e-mail.
“This is the third year we have sold beer at football games, and we have experienced very few issues at all,” Dugas said.
Luck, the father of Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck and former vice president of business development at the National Football League, said West Virginia’s additional revenue went into the athletic department’s general fund.
“What colleges do is look at what the pro teams do and say, ‘Is that applicable to my university?’” Luck said. “They have suites, so let’s build suites, and they sell beer, so let’s sell beer.”
The decision was accompanied by limits on coolers and other objects fans could bring into games, new policing methods inside the stadium, a new incident-tracking system and the elimination of the school’s “pass-out” policy that allowed fans to leave at halftime and later return to the game, Morgantown Police Department Chief Ed Preston said yesterday in a telephone interview.
He said eliminating pass-outs was “one of the best safety features that could have been added to these games.”
“It reduces the potential for binge drinking,” Preston said. “From a security and safety standpoint, it also reduces the potential of any contraband or weapons being brought into the games.”
Everyone must show identification to purchase beer at games, sales stop in the middle of the third quarter and nobody is served if noticeably intoxicated, Luck said. The team made partnerships with Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Molson Coors Brewing Co. and a local craft brewery.
The number of police cases at the school’s first four home games dropped 64.5 percent, to 24 from 68, from the same number of contests last year, according to WVU Police Chief Bob Roberts. He estimated that the decrease was about 35 percent in incidents specifically related to alcohol use.
Calls to police dropped 15 percent, to 149 from 176, and arrests dropped 20.5 percent, to 62 from 78, Roberts said.
Other athletic directors and a state legislator have called to inquire about beer sales, Luck said. He declined to identify them.
The Mountaineers were 9-3 this season, with home games against top-ranked Louisiana State and state rival Marshall, and finished at No. 23 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Big East champions play in the Orange Bowl against No. 15 Clemson at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on Jan. 4.
Luck said the school licensed all of its venues for beer sales but there was no discussion at West Virginia about selling beer at other events, such as basketball games, because no other sports had problems with excessive drinking by fans.
“People don’t come to basketball games sloshed, and run outside at halftime to drink some more,” he said. “The money is important but the money did not drive this decision.”