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Thirsty fans will be limited to water and soft drinks at all University of Minnesota sporting events, the Board of Regents decided Wednesday.
Under pressure from legislators angered by the university's plan to sell alcohol only in the private suites and premium seats at the new TCF Bank Stadium, the regents voted 10 to 2 to make all athletic events on campus alcohol free.
That brings the Gophers in compliance with a recently passed state law that requires alcohol sales be available to all fans at university events -- or none. It also ends the long-standing practice of the Athletic Department serving, but not selling, alcohol in private suites leased to fans at Mariucci and Williams arenas. Starting this fall, the suites will be as dry as the cheap seats.
That concerns some U officials and boosters, who fear the school could lose millions of dollars when disgruntled fans cancel their contracts for private suites and premium seats.
At the new football stadium, for instance, fees on suites and exclusive seats are expected to account for about 50 percent of ticket revenue. The university had sold 32 of its 37 suites, each priced at $45,000 and all but 50 of the 250 indoor premium seats, which can go for hundreds of dollars per game.
Regent Verona Hung said she voted against the resolution because the economic implications could be devastating. "I worry how an operating loss in the tune of millions of dollars is going to impact the Athletics Department and indirectly the whole institution when we are already facing such massive budget constraints," she said.
Athletic Director Joel Maturi said that selling alcohol to the students isn't allowed at any Big Ten sporting events held on university campuses. Minnesota has been an anomaly in recent years, allowing all fans to buy booze at football games since the team moved off-campus to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1982.
In a reversal of distinctions, the U will now become only the third Big Ten school to prohibit all alcohol at on-campus games, joining Michigan and Ohio State.
Booze or bust?
In an effort to keep suite and premium seat patrons at all three venues, the U plans to offer discounts valued at a total of at least $1 million annually to suite holders and seat owners. Some of the suite and premium seating holders will still use the opportunity to cancel their contracts, said Lou Nanne, a former Gophers hockey star and current athletics booster.
"I personally talked to some people. In this economy some people will use it as an excuse to break their contract with the university in hockey and basketball as well," Nanne said.
Nanne and University President Robert Bruininks both said that many corporate supporters had planned to use the suites to entertain clients and had counted on being able to serve alcohol. Without that, they may move to one of the many other sports venues in the metro area.
Some legislators think the regents' refusal to loosen restrictions on alcohol sales is out of touch with reality and a lost opportunity to create extra funds.
After the regents' decision, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, announced he would introduce legislation in 2010 that would create a scholarship for disabled veterans funded either from profits on university alcohol sales or from cuts in the U's administrative budget.
"Anyone who thinks the University of Minnesota is a dry campus hasn't spent five minutes on campus," Garofalo said. "We have allowed alcohol sales at Gopher football games for decades now and it seems unnecessary overreach to prohibit all alcohol sales at all football games."
But some suite owners say they don't mind the decision, because the experience is really about the game.
Mark Kravik has been a season-ticket holder for more than 20 of the wet Metrodome years. Now he is a suite owner and gets to watch his old team from a higher view, and it doesn't matter to him either way.
"For me personally, I don't drink very much,'' he said. "So it's not a big issue."
Alex Ebert 612-673-4264