Alcohol ban hurts Mariucci and Williams arenas’ ticket sales

The University could lose up to $1.3 billion because of the ban.

Danielle Nordine

Mariucci Arena manager Craig Flor said in past seasons, he could âÄúcount on one handâÄù the number of empty suites in an entire hockey season. But this year, there have been four to five empty suites per game. While the lackluster economy and poor performance of the Gopher hockey team have contributed to the decrease in sales of suites and seats in club rooms, Flor, also the manager of Ridder Arena, said the ban on alcohol in the arena has had a big impact. âÄúIâÄôve never seen a season where consistently four to five suites were empty before this year,âÄù he said. âÄúThereâÄôs nobody up there.âÄù Last year, the state Legislature forced the University of Minnesota to decide on an all-or-nothing policy for serving alcohol at sporting events rather than allowing them to provide alcohol only in premium seating, an issue that arose with the opening of TCF Bank Stadium. The University chose to eliminate alcohol completely, a ban that not only affected the stadium, but also included Mariucci and Williams arenas. The University loses approximately $1.3 million from the ban, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said, and other have said that figure is a conservative estimate. Season ticket prices had to be reduced by about 10 percent just to keep current customers, David Crum, associate athletics director, said. âÄúThere is a financial hit that we are facing because of the loss of alcohol in our facilities,âÄù Crum said. âÄúItâÄôs definitely hurt and itâÄôs reducing attendance.âÄù Crum said it has been harder to keep up levels of attendance at games this year, especially in suites. âÄúWeâÄôre having to do a lot more outgoing marketing to sell out our club room area in Mariucci,âÄù he said. The LegislatureâÄôs alcohol ban was only aimed at TCF Bank Stadium and not all arenas, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said. âÄúThere was no discussion at all that you were changing a long-held practice for all of the arenas,âÄù she said. âÄúIt had been that way for years without anyone ever objecting to it, so I certainly think it was an unintended consequence.âÄù The University gave the athletics department a one-time $1 million payment to help with the revenue losses, but the money had to be split across the department and must be spent during the 2010 fiscal year, which ends in June. âÄúUltimately, itâÄôs the athleticsâÄô bottom line thatâÄôs being hurt the most by this,âÄù Flor said âÄúStarting in July, nobodyâÄôs going to front us any reimbursement for that decision, and we had forecasted our budget on having that money.âÄù Earlier this month, Kahn proposed legislation that would give control of alcohol sales in Mariucci and Williams arenas back to the University, but the measure was defeated easily in the House. âÄúI donâÄôt think Mariucci and Williams should ever have been included in the deal,âÄù Pappas said. âÄúI thought it was a good compromise, but the House didnâÄôt agree.âÄù On May 15, the Legislature offered a compromise that would allow the University to have alcohol in premium seating areas if it also offers alcohol in at least one-third of the general seating. The Board of Regents hasnâÄôt made a decision on this offer yet. With this yearâÄôs legislative session over, some have speculated that this issue will return next session, but others say the University should handle the decision. âÄúI think, frankly, that we shouldnâÄôt micromanage the University on this,âÄù Kahn said. âÄúThe Regents should be able to make their own decisions on this.âÄù