On tap at Gophers football stadium: $7.25 beer at 8 tents

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2012 - 6:38 AM

University unveils its football alcohol policy.

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Scott Ellison, associate athletic director, met with reporters at TCF Bank Stadium to discuss the university’s new alcohol policy.

Photo: Richard Sennott , Star Tribune

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First, the good news: There will be three types of beer, plus red and white wines and eight alcohol tents.

Now, the not-so-good news: The beers will be $7.25 apiece, will be limited to two per trip and all sales will be cut off after halftime.

The University of Minnesota's two-year experiment of selling alcohol at the 50,800-seat TCF Bank Stadium begins Saturday when the football team plays its first home game, with a late morning kickoff against New Hampshire. After years of trying to have alcohol sales limited to the new stadium's premium-seating area, the school accepted a legislative compromise this summer to also sell beer and wine to all fans of legal age.

But it might not help reverse the trend of three straight years of declining attendance at the new stadium.

Just 3,100 student season tickets have been sold this year -- the school had a goal of 8,000 -- and the $288 million stadium is expected to have many empty seats on Saturday. School officials said they did not think the new policy, by itself, would draw more fans, and several students interviewed on Thursday afternoon agreed.

"The students don't seem to be too interested in going to see the Gophers play," said Ilkka Monson, a nursing student from Minneapolis who sat eating on campus near the stadium. "It seems to be a dying sport at the University of Minnesota -- maybe for the best."

In announcing how the alcohol sales would occur, the university said that 12 additional uniformed police officers -- increasing the total to 122 -- plus an unspecified number of contracted security would be on hand and that "any customer who appears to be 30 years old or younger" would be asked for identification.

The eight alcohol tents will be on the stadium's open west end, on the opposite end of the stadium from the student section, and will open an hour before the game.

Under the plan, beer and wine -- but not hard liquor -- will be sold separately in the stadium's suites.

"Quite honestly, it's going to be an experiment for us, this first game," Scott Ellison, the school's associate athletics director, said as he toured the stadium on Thursday, explaining how alcohol sales would take place. He said police would be particularly watching for "pass offs" -- fans buying beers and then handing them to under age companions.

Though the university will have the only Big Ten football stadium selling alcohol throughout the facility, school officials said it was patterning its plan after those recently enacted at both the University of West Virginia and Rice University.

School and legislative officials said the compromise, while going further than what the university wanted, was aimed at satisfying legislators who said all legal-age fans and not just premium seat holders should have access to beer and wine.

"My colleagues in the House made that point abundantly clear," said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, a school alumni and the lead House author of the alcohol sales plan. "We tried all sorts of different ways to resolve it. It was personally painful for me to have my university family and my legislative family not getting along."

Though the issue had been vigorously debated at the state Capitol, the new policy was greeted by some students with a yawn.

Tiffany Glass, a doctoral student studying molecular biology, said none of her friends are talking about the football team or the new alcohol policy. "I hear people talking about molecular biology," she said.

"It's all relative," she added. "I'm sure the game is tremendously important to some people. I just haven't run into them."

Ellison said school officials were estimating that 7,000 alcohol sales would be made Saturday, not counting sales in the premium seats. Earlier estimates had the school getting as much as $2 million per year from selling alcohol. Ellison said proceeds would go to the school's athletic budget.

"If they can improve their revenues with something like that, it seems pretty harmless," said John Phillips of Maple Grove, another student.

But Clyde Allen, a member of the school's Board of Regents, said the bigger issue remains winning football games. "I think the fans come, basically, to see the game and to see good football," he said. "I think that's a far more important issue than the alcohol issue."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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