Taps will flow at TCF, but concerns remain

A committee will evaluate the new alcohol policy after every football game.

Emma Nelson

Alcohol sales in TCF Bank Stadium were approved by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents last week, but administrators and students alike are approaching the change with caution.

Beginning this fall, Gopher fans will be able to purchase beer and wine, but not hard alcohol at sporting events, according to University policy.

The new policy — the only one of its kind in the Big Ten — comes with a number of provisions, including increased security, carefully designated vendor areas and regulations regarding University branding.

Sales will bring in between $1 million and $1.5 million for the University, said Amy Phenix, the University president’s chief of staff. The “vast majority” of revenue will come from increased prices for premium seating and suites, she said.

Maintaining a safe environment

Throughout the planning process leading up to the policy’s implementation, safety has been a primary concern.

Precautions to be taken include special training for servers, a two-drink limit per point of sale, additional security and a designated driver program.

Increased security — including both University police and other personnel — will account for the bulk of the estimated $25,000 in alcohol-related costs per game, Phenix said.

Additional security will include 12 private security personnel as well as 12 University police officers, she said.

Vendors will be located at the opposite end of the stadium from the student section, and servers will be trained to check IDs and identify overconsumption.

A committee comprised of members including University police, student affairs, University Athletics Department and the Office of the President will evaluate the results of alcohol sales after each game, said Scott Ellison, associate department director for University athletics.

The evaluation will consider the number of alcohol-related incidents at each game, and what caused them, he said.

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for Student Affairs, said vendor placement came from the assumption that many ticketholders in the student section are under the age of 21.

The University aims to “maintain an environment where students are safe and can be successful,” he said.

Haley Rorvick, an aerospace engineering sophomore, said she doesn’t like the idea of alcohol sales in the stadium.

Though she said she understands the societal association between athletics and drinking, she is concerned about worsening fan behavior and underage drinking with the use of the fake IDs.

Based on previous experience — including alcohol availability during the University’s use of the Metrodome — the new policy should be manageable, University Deputy Police Chief Chuck Miner said.

“We’re not expecting any major crowd behavior changes,” he said.

Regents raised concerns about student safety, but also noted a possible opportunity.

“Are we better off to prohibit something readily available in other settings, or model good use and good behavior?” Regent Clyde Allen said at the meeting. “Logic would tell me it’s the latter.”

Implementation elsewhere

West Virginia University adopted a similar policy in 2011, after having sold alcohol exclusively to premium ticketholders.

The policy was implemented along with two others — one banning smoking inside the stadium and another preventing re-entry.

In the past, fans would drink alcohol outside of the stadium prior to the game as well as during halftime, said Michael Fragale, assistant athletic director for communications. This problem — and crowd behavior in general — was reduced by the new policies.

“It went better than expected,” he said.

WVU estimated between $500,000 and $1 million in earnings from alcohol sales, Fragale said, and earned about $519,000 in the first year.

‘Special public places’

As part of the planning process, University of Minnesota administrators considered the vendors’ proximity to the Tribal Nations Plaza and Veterans’ Memorial at the stadium.

In what he called a “productive meeting,” University President Eric Kaler discussed the alcohol policy with Stanley Crooks, chair of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $12.5 million to the University in 2007 — $10 million for the construction of the stadium and $2.5 million for scholarships.

They declined to comment on the policy.

The Tribal Nations Plaza and Veterans’ Memorial, which will be visible from TCF Bank Stadium’s point of sale, will remain alcohol-free. To make the separation clear, the vendors will be blocked from view by a wall of trees.In her presentation to the board, Phenix noted the importance of both the plaza and the memorial. “They are special public places, and we want to keep them special public places in our community,” she said.

Branding restrictions

The University will purchase alcohol from an outside company, and sales will be facilitated by Aramark, the current concessions provider, said Leslie Bowman, executive director of contract administration.

A proposal request for potential vendors lists vendor criteria, including providing “uninterrupted service” to the University and paying service personnel a living wage.

“We had to be very specific about what we’ll be evaluating on, and what weight the specific criteria would have,” Bowman said.

Among the request’s terms and conditions is a clause prohibiting the use of the University’s name, logo, colors, music and other features of the brand by the vendor.

This prohibition is specific to alcohol sales, Bowman said.

The University wants to maintain a focus on academic missions — such as education and research — rather than on alcohol, Rinehart said.

Legislative involvement

The board’s decision follows extensive legislation regarding alcohol sales at the stadium as well as at Williams and Mariucci arenas.

In 2009, the state Legislature passed a law forbidding alcohol from being served or sold unless made accessible to all attendees of legal age. The University — which had planned to sell to premium ticketholders and had previously served alcohol in private suites at Williams and Mariucci — chose to forego alcohol sales altogether.

Recent legislation restores the ability to sell in premium seating areas at Williams and Mariucci but maintains that sales in TCF Bank Stadium must be available to the general public.

The Legislature’s involvement was one reason cited by regents for their concern over the issue and caused one dissenting vote from Regent Venora Hung.

“We wouldn’t even be talking about this today, or voting on it for that matter, if it wasn’t for inappropriate legislation that caused our autonomy to be breached,” Vice Chair David Larson said.