Asmussen | Cheers! Beer idea a sure hit at llinois athletic events

 

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CHAMPAIGN — After $7 domestics and $8 craft brews go on sale this fall at State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium, revenue from the public beer sales is expected to top $100,000 in its first year.

But UI senior associate athletic director Marty Kaufmann said overhead costs involved with setting up the sales will lower profits, especially in Year 1.

"There will probably be an increase in the low six figures," Kaufmann said Tuesday, the day Illinois announced it would begin making beer available at select sporting events later this year. "But we've found when researching this that Year 1, you have some operational costs. Everybody thinks there's going to be a windfall, but ... that's not necessarily the case right away."

And he said the bigger revenue increases should come from getting more fans in the stadiums.

"We want more people who have tickets to come into the stadium and stay longer," Kaufmann said. "Hopefully, we'll have a better environment, which helps us win more games."

Part of the revenue increase will go toward paying for more security at games, even though UI officials expect alcohol-related incidents to decrease.

"It's something we're doing right now as an overabundance of caution," said Pat Wade, spokesman for the University of Illinois Police. "We want to be sure we're ready for anything."

The decrease in incidents is expected for two reasons: less binge drinking during tailgating, and fewer attempts to smuggle alcohol into the stadiums, Kaufmann said.

A decrease has happened at other schools, including when Ohio State added beer at football games in 2016. UI Police Chief Craig Stone was working at OSU at the time and "felt there was a pretty smooth transition," Wade said.

Beer sales have been expanding in college athletics, with more than 50 of the 129 schools that compete at the highest level of the NCAA's Division I — the Football Bowl Subdivision — now selling it.

This fall, Illinois will join five other Big Ten programs selling beer at home football games: Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers.

Leading off: Baseball?

Illinois has increasingly tested the idea, selling alcoholic beverages to premium ticket holders at Memorial Stadium since 2008 and at State Farm Center since 2015.

State Farm Center also has sold beer at most concerts since 2008, and beer has been on sale at Grange Grove the past three seasons.

It was also on sale for one baseball game last year.

Beer may be on sale as soon as the last three home games of this year's Illini baseball season, and it should be available at softball games in 2020.

It could eventually make its way to more sports, but the other facilities aren't currently designed to handle beer sales, Kaufmann said.

For example, soccer currently sells concessions out of a trailer, he said, and at volleyball games at Huff Hall, food is sold from a temporary stand that's already crowded.

But, "I don't think other sports are off limits," he said.

'Wine-and-cheese crowd'

The expanded beer sales drew praise from local officials.

"I'm glad to see that they finally recognize their general fan base can be trusted with a beer and not just the wine-and-cheese crowd in the luxury suites," state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said in a statement.

The public beer sales won't entirely eliminate the alcohol gap, as wine and mixed drinks will still only be available in the premium seats.

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, the city's liquor commissioner, said she doesn't have a problem with expanding beer sales, especially because fans in the premium seats could already drink alcohol.

She said it always seemed inequitable that fans who didn't buy expensive tickets couldn't buy a beer.

Feinen said the sales may reduce binge drinking at tailgates because fans "know they can get a beer inside. So there's not this rush to get out of the stadium at halftime, or the rush to drink before you come in."

Feinen, who's worked with other city and campus officials to curb drinking on Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, sees the two issues differently.

"That's binge drinking all day, having beer with your cereal, which we saw students doing," she said.

Two at a time

Illinois is taking some steps to deter excessive drinking, Kaufmann said. For example, shutting off sales after the end of the third quarter during daytime football games.

Sales could be cut off earlier for night games, he said.

For basketball games, sales will be cut off sometime after halftime; for baseball, after the middle of the seventh inning; for softball, after the middle of the fifth.

Illinois is also limiting customers to purchasing two beers at a time, and one if you buy it in the north stands, where students tend to sit.

Other schools "found that if they didn't offer sales there, that it was more likely the students would then travel to other parts of the stadium," Kaufmann said, which would make lines longer.

But by limiting them to one, "it limits the amount of pass-offs," he said.

The beer will be sold in aluminum bottles and cans — not poured, to save time and reduce lines, Kaufmann said.