Stadium alcohol policy totaled

Since the christening of TCF Stadium, the Board of Regents’ alcohol policy has cost the University $1 million.

by Maureen Landsverk

With the multitude of budget cuts from household to national levels, it seems only natural that institutions such as the University of Minnesota would jump at the chance to generate additional profits. However, President Bob BruininksâÄô new budget proposal included no amendment to the Board of Regents to overturn the prohibitive alcohol policy applicable to the three largest sports pavilions on campus: TCF Bank Stadium, Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena. Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill mandating a âÄúbeer for all or noneâÄù policy at the UniversityâÄôs shining new stadium, a motion seen by myself and many others as unnecessary. As a recent Star Tribune editorial asserted, it was a superfluous use of power. It went over the authority of the very Board of Regents that had originally voted in favor of selling alcohol in premium seating sections, a total of 5 percent of the entire stadium capacity. Nevertheless, the board decided to ban alcohol sales altogether after the Legislature passed the law, holding with the NCAAâÄôs recommendation which âÄúdiscourages schools from selling alcohol at games.âÄù The University administrationâÄôs unwillingness to cede ground on the alcohol policy has overcome even administrationâÄôs desire to bridge the budget gap, however slightly. Now, the University will be shouldering an additional $36 million reduction in funding. The University cites the example set by other Big 10 schools, including the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University, in an effort to reduce binge drinking among collegiate fans. The University of Wisconsin has gone so far as to sacrifice its previous alcohol advertising sponsorships, along with the sizeable revenue stream it provided its athletics department. If opposition to binge drinking is indeed UWâÄôs motivation, it may be useful to recall an earlier, failed attempt at national prohibition. In the same way U.S. citizens found ways to consume the illegal booze of the 1920s, University students undoubtedly have, and will continue to find ways to fill the time before and after stadium entry with liquor. In fact, banning alcoholic beverages from sporting premises may actually encourage binge drinking, as ticket holders feel more pressure to do away with sobriety before admission instead of extending the process throughout the event to a longer, safer timeframe. âÄúMy roommates and I get hammered for every game, but we have to cram it all in beforehand,âÄù says Pat Swanson, a senior at the University and a Gophers football season ticket holder last year. âÄúSometimes, my roommate Trevor doesnâÄôt even make it to the game. It would be much easier to stagger our drinking throughout the game, instead of trying to compensate for the time we wonâÄôt have beer on tap.âÄù We must ask why now, especially in the current economic climate, when alcohol was available to all of-age patrons in the Metrodome, the GophersâÄô previous home for 28 years. The lost $1 million in annual revenues is due in part to direct alcohol sales as well as the deflated demand for and price of premium and box seats, which are suspected to see a 20 percent discount in the 2010-11 season. Another reason cited for the strict alcohol ban is the history of alcohol abuse at, and especially after, University sporting events, namely the 2002 and 2003 riots spurred by the Gophers national hockey championships. The University, however, already has a safeguard in place to prevent just that: A required BAC test for every returning student previously kicked out for drunken rowdiness. With this guideline in place, the dry stadium policy begins to seem redundant. Currently, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, is in the process of repealing the all-or-none policy. She critiques the principle of lawmakers cutting the budget of an institution for which their own legislative decisions have slashed revenues. Her bill was sent forward Tuesday, a definite step toward handing the reigns back to the regents. Though this has been the cornerstone of the dry alcohol policy debate, the problem may not lie with the stateâÄôs decisions. In essence, the University has thrown away a golden opportunity to draw itself more attention and more revenue. The administrative decision to ban alcohol altogether was a financial shot to the foot and a choice that was not always popular among those involved. Board of Regents member David Larson voted against the blanket ban: âÄúThe financial model for this stadium, which we approved, was heavily based on income from premium seats,âÄù he asserted. Considering the rules and regulations already in place to protect students and the University from alcohol-related mishaps, why is the ban still in place, let alone a viable option? And what is the difference between offering alcohol to the entire populace of the stadium versus a particular premium-seated crowd? The root, of course, is money. Money separates the general admission patrons from those seated in the boxes; it does not, however, determine maturity, which logically disarms the regentsâÄô initial plan to offer alcohol only to premium seating, a proposition that was often and rightly characterized as âÄúelitist.âÄù The Pappas bill is only a placeholder in the budget struggle between the state and the University of Minnesota, and it would overturn a piece of legislation for which the rationale remains sound. The real issue to be dealt with here is inconsistency: The unfairness of providing an age-restricted luxury to wealthier fans when the right to drink responsibly has always been void of any subjection to affluence. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]