Not much revenue expected from alcohol sales at UA basketball

Patrons wait in line at a University of Arizona basketball game. Photo by Nate Airulla.

Beer and wine are coming to Arizona basketball games. Tucson City Council voted Tuesday in favor of the University of Arizona selling beer and wine at college basketball games. At first glance, it seems like this is just another way for the university to make a bunch of cash. But experts say that there is actually not as much money to be made in alcohol sales as one might think. Adding alcohol to college sporting events has been a trend in recent years, mainly with college football games, but recently some basketball schools have started doing it as well, Philadelphia Inquirer sports reporter Frank Fitzpatrick told ASN. “There was no NCAA regulation banning it. It was just a de facto prohibition,” said Fitzpatrick, who has written about the issue often for the Philadelphia Inquirer.   Fitzpatrick said selling alcohol at games has been frowned upon because the majority of people attending college campuses are underage. However, that does not mean season ticket holders and older fans would not benefit from the ability to buy alcohol. Kristi Dosh covers the business of college sports for Forbes Magazine and she said that the real reason universities want to sell alcohol is for the fans. “Most schools aren’t actually making very much. I don’t think the primary reason they’re adding the option is to generate revenue, it’s to improve the game day experience and bolster attendance,” Dosh said in an interview with ASN. Dosh said that she spoke to several universities who have been selling alcohol for a few years and they reported considerably low revenue from alcohol sales. Despite charging $7.25 for a Bud Light, the University of Minnesota said they actually lost money when they first started selling alcohol. “The reason they don’t make much is because they split the revenue with the concessionaire and there is an added security cost associated with adding alcohol,” Dosh said. “Definitely not a revenue play as much as a fan experience one.” The University of Minnesota reported making 22 percent of the revenue from alcohol sales in their stadium and the rest went to the vendor. The university had to hire additional security guards and pay other fees that are involved with retaining permission to sell alcohol. Their share of the revenue was $185,025 after taxes. But the university spent $200,000 on alcohol related expenses that year, netting them nearly a $15,000 loss. In an interview with the Star Tribune, University of Minnesota’s athletic director said the university knew they would not make much money selling alcohol, but hoped it would entice more people to buy tickets to the games. Hoping more people will want to buy tickets could be one of the key factors behind Arizona’s desire to sell alcohol at games, as that would generate more revenue on its own. Arizona Daily Star sports editor Ryan Finley said that the UA has been offering alcohol to people in club level seats at Arizona football games for some time already. However, they aren’t selling it. “They already serve beer and wine in luxury boxes at football games, so it’s technically allowed,” Finley said. “They don’t sell it, they give it away to people who buy suites.” One perspective concerned people in Tucson have shared is that selling alcohol will increase fan related incidents during the game.   In football games, Fitzpatrick said that beer sales have actually reduced alcohol-related incidents. Before the game, fans drink at their tailgate parties in the parking lots and lawns around the stadium. They know that they will be cut off once they make it inside the stadium so they drink extra before the game starts. Having the ability to buy alcohol inside the stadium lets them drink at a slower pace, and helps reduce the amount of people coming to the game overly intoxicated. In basketball you do not have the same alcohol-soaked atmosphere that you do with football. There is no tailgating, so you do not have people that set aside their entire day to get drunk before the game. The University of Arizona is only planning on offering beer and wine at basketball games, no hard alcohol. Fitzpatrick said that this could be Arizona’s way of trying to enhance the fan’s experience, while not allowing them to get too intoxicated and create additional trouble. Nate Airulla is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the University of Arizona. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter Click here for a Word version of the story and photographs   

Originally posted from Arizona Sonora News Service which can be read here.

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