University of Minnesota administrators believe that adult beverages should flow as freely in the stands at Gophers basketball and men’s hockey games as in the suites.
U President Eric Kaler sent a memo to the Board of Regents last week, asking the board to permit wine and beer sales to those sitting in general admission at Williams and Mariucci arenas. Regent approval for the request, which comes from the U’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, is necessary before the taps can open.
In his memo, Kaler wrote that he “strongly” supports expanded sales, “given the intensely competitive sports entertainment market we have in the Twin Cities and the positive results we have experienced with general seating alcohol sales at TCF Bank Stadium.”
The request for more drink sales is an attempt to address slumping ticket sales and revenue. Poor attendance drove the U to announce a week ago that some season ticket prices would be dropped for men’s hockey and basketball. Annual average revenue from alcohol sales at TCF Bank Stadium has been $1.3 million, with most of it coming from general admission sections rather than premium seats.
If adopted, the U will become part of a nationwide trend toward more alcohol sales at college sports venues.
For the first time ever, the NCAA allowed beer and wine sales at the men’s basketball Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium earlier this month. The University of Illinois just announced plans to sell beer at some venues, including its football stadium, making the Illini the sixth Big Ten school to do so.
A decade ago, beer and wine sales were offered by fewer than a dozen collegiate institutions. Now more than 50 Division I football schools allow wine and beer at stadiums on- and off-campus.
The Gophers first began selling beer and wine in both premium and general seating areas at TCF Bank Stadium in 2012. At Williams Arena, where men and women play basketball, and 3M Arena at Mariucci, where the men’s hockey team plays, alcohol so far has been available only in premium seating.
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said in an interview last week that the U wanted to “explore and learn more about” expanding sales beyond the premium seats.
Regent Michael Hsu said Tuesday that he generally supported the move.
“We have to be competitive with other venues,” he said, referring to local professional sports arenas ranging from Target Center to just-opened Allianz Field where alcohol is widely available.
But Hsu and other regents also say they need more information and want to make sure things won’t get too wild. Everyone seemed to agree that sales at TCF Bank Stadium have gone well.
Kaler’s memo said the anticipated cost of making one-time adjustments to the facilities for new sales is $70,000.
Annual revenue at both arenas is projected to be about $250,000, but Kaler noted that the athletic department believes ticket sales will increase because of the expanded availability of wine and beer.
In addition to TCF Bank Stadium, Williams and Mariucci, the U holds liquor licenses for three other metro area venues: Northrop auditorium, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen and Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights.
The U also holds liquor licenses for student centers on the Morris and Duluth campuses.
According to Kaler’s memo, TCF Bank Stadium is the only U athletic venue where beer and wine have been sold outside of premium seating.
Kaler expressed confidence that both Williams and Mariucci can accommodate the space needed for expanded sales, and he provided a list of principles to “guide the service and sale of alcohol”: a safe, fan-friendly environment; certified salespeople; a limit of two drinks per person per transaction; ID checks on every sale; and a “Drink Responsibly” sign posted at sales counters.
Service would end at halftime for basketball games and after the second period for hockey.
Regent Randy Simonson said he’s not opposed to additional sales but wanted to see how it would be controlled. Regent Darrin Rosha also wanted to know about safeguards.
“Without seeing the specifics of the proposal, it’s challenging to provide a response,” Rosha said. “But I’m open to any presentation that come from the athletic department.”
Regent Dean Johnson said the request seemed reasonable given how smoothly things have gone at TCF Bank. “It has been controlled and it has been OK,” he said.
But Johnson, who may no longer be a regent by the time the board votes, had one lament: “Do you have to have alcohol for everything to enjoy it?”
Regents Abdul Omari and Ken Powell declined to comment. The others didn’t respond to interview requests.