Gophers fans: Sip, sip, hooray

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 1:56 AM

University police reported fewer incidents than normal at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday despite brand-new beer and wine sales.

If drinking two beers serves up more money for the University of Minnesota, then Jodi Saliny and other football fans were glad to buy a round Saturday.

They joined throngs of Gophers fans soaking up the sun, football and, for the first time, $7.25 plastic cups filled with beer and wine at TCF Bank Stadium -- the first Big Ten football stadium to sell alcohol to anyone of legal age.

"It brings more revenue for the school, and if they do it the right way, I think it's good," said Saliny, a season-ticket holder with her husband, a U grad. "Plus we're from Wisconsin -- we like beer."

The season's first home game Saturday drew 47,000 fans, had no major incidents, and kicked off a two-year test of serving beer and wine -- but no hard liquor -- at the stadium. It followed legislative approval this summer to sell alcohol to fans seated throughout the stadium, not just those in premium seats as the university initially planned.

The ensuing controversy was overblown to some, such as Joe Swan of Sioux Falls, S.D. "It's college football Saturday," he said. "It's not like science students are getting beer before they go to science class. It's great for the U of M. It makes the day more festive and fun."

The U now joins 11 Division-I football programs out of 120 that sell beer to all fans in university-owned stadiums. Some say it could be the start of a new reality for university stadiums, with U leaders expecting an extra $2 million a year in alcohol sales flowing into the school's athletic budget. No sales numbers were available Saturday, but police reported fewer problem incidents at the game than normal.

"All and all, it went as smoothly as could be expected," spokesman Chuck Tombarge said. "We're feeling it was a successful day."

As extra police officers patrolled the stadium, maroon-and-gold-clad fans flooded corrals outside eight alcohol tents. Most carried two beers, the maximum sold per trip. Many fans said they'd be at the game whether there was beer or not, calling the beer and wine an extra perk harking back to when the Gophers played at the Metrodome.

"It's nice to watch the football game and have a beer," said Anna Keller, a 2009 alum.

Most said they waited in line about five minutes, but as halftime approached -- when alcohol sales were cut off -- fans such as Keller were patient through a 15-minute wait.

Not everyone thought it was worth the wait. Senior Matt Miller, 21, and his friends returned to the student section, scoffing at the long lines and $7.25 price.

Concerns about safety and belligerent fans were dismissed by Sarah Monn and her husband as they sipped beers. "It's not like a drunk-fest; we're watching football," said Monn, 43, of Rosemount.

Graduate student Charlie Jude, 25, of Minneapolis, said he believes alcohol sales inside the stadium aren't likely to deter binge or underage drinking outside the stadium.

"You aren't going to have kids downing beers [at the game] unless they're millionaires," he said. "For the U, it's a way to make money and keep the fans happy."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

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