CHAMPAIGN — Beer sales at Memorial Stadium totaled $488,115 this season, the first time fans in general seating could pop a cold one at the game.
The number is higher than the low six-figure mark officials had predicted last spring, but not all of that will be profit for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Revenue will be split with Spectra, which provides concessions for UI athletic events, and the DIA will also have to deduct extra costs such as added security at the games, said Jason Lener, senior associate athletic director.
Still, “I think we were pleasantly surprised with it,” Lener said.
The biggest sales came during three Big Ten games, against Nebraska ($124,085), Michigan ($90,408) and Wisconsin ($85,815). Nebraska was the only night game, Lener said, which “lent itself to having higher numbers.”
Beer sales, like other concessions, are driven by overall attendance.
Sales bottomed out at $25,445 during a loss to Northwestern on a dreary Saturday after Thanksgiving, when most students were out of town and attendance was low.
“The more people that are there, the more money we make,” Lener said. “The hope is that the program continues to improve and with more people coming to our games we see that number increasing every year.”
Beer is sold at separate kiosks in the east and west main halls, to keep lines manageable, and at regular concession stands in the horseshoe area, where there isn’t room for separate stands.
In the north end zone, where students sit, one of the four concession stands was devoted to beer sales.
The student section made up only 3 percent of total beer sales, with $16,475, Lener said. The biggest week came during the Nebraska game ($4,573), followed by Rutgers ($3,474) — which fell on Dads Day when lots of dads were sitting in the student section, Lener said.
Overall, Illini fans preferred their $7 light beer over the $8 premium brands, Blue Moon and Goose Island. Sales of Bud Lite, Coors Lite, Miller Lite and Michelob Ultra accounted for 95 percent of the total, Lener said. He said Spectra will likely continue selling premium brews.
“Our fans like to have the option, and it’s not a big deal to do it,” he said.
The UI is still working out what its profit share from Spectra will be, Lener said. During negotiations last spring, the two parties decided to wait until after the first year of sales at football and basketball games to determine the exact percentage, he said.
Under Spectra’s existing agreement with State Farm Center, for alcohol sales at non-sports events, the UI gets 38 percent to 42 percent, depending on the amount sold. As sales increase, so do the percentages, he said.
“The hope is that it’s going to be at a minimum the same” for the athletics contract, Lener said.
Spectra pays for the beer and hires staff to sell it at the stadium. The UI had some startup costs this year, including equipment, and also paid for extra police officers to be on hand, he said.
“The one component that was really satisfying is that we didn’t have any alcohol-related incidents during the course of the year,” which has been the norm for other schools that have allowed alcohol sales, Lener said.
Officials had argued that beer sales inside the stadium would cut down on the number of fans who binge-drink at tailgates beforehand, because they know they can drink socially and buy a beer or two during the game.
Deputy Police Chief Matt Myrick, who has supervised stadium operations for the UI Police Department since the 2015 season, said the number of fan arrests (1) and ejections (15) this season was consistent with past years.
Police reported 21 medical calls at the Eastern Michigan game, including a few related to alcohol, but most were tied to the heat that day, he said. There were 13 at the Nebraska game, all alcohol-related, but that’s typical for a night game, and “not a lot of significant police problems,” Myrick said.
Three fans were ejected from the Nebraska game, four at the Michigan game and eight during the Wisconsin game, data show.
The 54 medical calls this season resulted in seven people being taken to the hospital, all at the Wisconsin game. Two were cardiac-related and the rest alcohol, police said.
“We had very few problems,” said UI Police Chief Craig Stone, who had the same experience as Ohio State’s police chief when that school started selling beer at football games.
Stone wouldn’t say how many extra officers were on duty this season, for security reasons, but the UI beefed up police presence at entry/exit points around the stadium to ensure fans weren’t taking alcohol in or out of the game, he said.
The police department also conducted inspections to ensure that the staff members selling beer were following serving guidelines and found no major problems, Stone said. They also did periodic checks in the stands.
Patrons could only buy two beers per ID at a time, and students were limited to one per ID to prevent them from passing off beer to under-age drink
ers, he said. Alcohol sales were also cut off before the end of the third quarter, he said.
The goal was to preserve a family-friendly atmosphere at the game, “and I think we achieved that,” he said.
How much beer did Illini fans buy — and what did they drink — at Memorial Stadium this fall? Here’s a breakdown:
E. Michigan $56,323
Bud Lite 32%
Coors Lite 21%
Miller Lite 20%
Michelob Ultra 20%
Goose Island IPA* 3%
Blue Moon* 2%
*-$8 premium brands; all other beer is $7