The University of Minnesota’s governing board signaled strong support for a proposal to allow beer and wine sales in general seating at Williams and Mariucci arenas on the Twin Cities campus. Regents, who were earlier slated to vote on the proposal Friday, held off on taking action until their June meeting.
TCF Bank Stadium is now the only U sports venue where alcohol sales are allowed outside of premium seating. U President Eric Kaler first raised the issue with regents in a memo this month, backing general seating sales at Williams and Mariucci “given the intensely competitive sports entertainment market we have in the Twin Cities.”
The university has contended with lackluster ticket sales at Williams, which hosts men’s and women’s basketball, and at Mariucci, home of the men’s hockey team. The U recently announced it would lower some men’s hockey and basketball season ticket prices in response to a dip in attendance.
“We’ve got to get creative to get fans to come back to our venues,” U Athletic Director Mark Coyle said.
Coyle told regents the proposal has the backing of campus police, the risk management office and student services, as well as a fan advisory council he launched after starting in the job three years ago.
At TCF Bank Stadium, most of the $1.3 million average annual revenue from alcohol sales comes from general admissions sections rather than premium seats. The university projects the change would bring in an additional $250,000 in annual revenue. A one-time adjustment to the facilities in preparation for the change would cost $70,000.
Fans would be able to buy up to two drinks at a time. Staff would post “Drink Responsibly” signs at sales counters and check IDs at every sale.
“Obviously, our No. 1 goal is to provide a safe and fan-friendly environment,” Coyle told regents.
Nationally, a growing number of campus sports venues are moving to allow alcohol sales. More than 50 Division I schools now allow wine and beer at stadiums on and off campus, compared with fewer than a dozen a decade ago.
Several regents spoke in support of the proposal Friday. Some said they want to see the university expand even further the number of venues where alcohol is served — a push that might require enlisting state lawmakers, who have limited the number of alcohol licenses the U can hold to nine.
“We’ve had time and experience serving alcohol here,” said regent Richard Beeson. “It has been a good experience.”
Beeson suggested designating an “entertainment district” on the Twin Cities campus, which might allow the U to use one license for several venues.
Regent Michael Hsu noted that data from TCF Bank Stadium shows very few alcohol-related incidents there. He said the lack of general-seating alcohol sales leads some fans to drink more heavily before games, potentially leading to more problems.
Regent Darrin Rosha commended steps the university plans to take to “preserve a family-friendly environment.” He said the status quo — with those in private suites and other premium seating able to buy alcohol while most fans cannot — doesn’t sit well with him.
“I’ve never been very comfortable with that,” he said.