There are few places more intrinsically college than a football stadium. So why is it that at most schools, gridirons are the fall’s only beer-free weekend destinations?
During the 2015-2016 season, only 34 out of 128 Division I college football stadiums served alcohol to the general public. Only 11 of the stadiums selling booze did so at off-campus stadiums, and only seven programs were members of the so-called Big Five conferences.
Pitt wasn’t one of those — the only alcohol offered at Panther games is for priority seating — but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. There’s a reason Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes didn’t rule the addition out during his introductory press conference last April.
More and more Big Five schools are joining the beer movement every year, and it’s paying off. Alcohol sales generate more revenue for the school, and when students can drink inside the stadium, they’re less likely to binge drink beforehand.
Allowing fans to purchase alcohol will not only promote safer drinking for fans, but would actually make them less violent as well. This proved true with Pitt’s Backyard neighbors, the West Virginia Mountaineers.
According to a 2015 article in The New York Times, “West Virginia’s police department reported sharp declines in incident reports and arrests on home football Saturdays from 2010 to 2014.”
When of-age students can purchase beer, wine and hard cider inside the stadium, tailgating and binge drinking before the game is less extreme, helping to prevent potentially fatal instances of alcohol abuse, according to The Times.
Not only would introducing alcohol to Heinz lower the number of parking-lot arrests, it would generate revenue for the school by selling more tickets and, of course, more drinks.
An official at Sodexo, the food and facilities management company that handles concessions at Mountaineers games, told The Times that “more than 30,000 beers were sold” for last year’s West Virginia-Maryland game at Milan Puskar Stadium. That translated to more than $100,000 for the university, according to The Times.
“We average $500,000-$600,000 a year in alcohol sales,” WVU’s Associate Athletic Director Michael Fragale told The Pitt News.
The Miami Hurricanes, who share Sun Life Stadium with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, were the only Big Five program that played their home games at an off-campus stadium and sold alcohol to the general public last season.
But more Big Five schools are opening up to the idea every year, and Pitt should join them. Adding the sales would also improve the fan experience, something Pitt has been trying to do under Barnes’ leadership.
Plenty of Pitt students tailgate before games outside the stadium, but many don’t go inside either because they can’t keep drinking there or they’re already too drunk to enter. Selling alcohol to the public during the game will allow fans to pace themselves before the game, and give them more reason to come inside and cheer.
Some fans attending Pitt football games are regulars at Steelers games at that same field, where they can purchase as much beer as they like until the concession stands shut down.
By serving alcohol to the general public, the atmosphere in the crowd will feel more like a Steelers game, and fans will be more likely to stay the whole game and stay loud the whole time, even if some have one too many and “can’t hang.”
Steelers fans are known for being some of the loudest and most passionate fans in the NFL all the way through to the end. Pitt Athletics, on the other hand, has had trouble getting fans to stay past “Sweet Caroline.”
Pitt already signaled the start of a new era for Panthers athletics by making the long-overdue uniform change back to the script. Now is the time to make another change and start selling beer to the public at Pitt games.
It’s a no-brainer really: If you want to increase revenue and fan engagement and decrease alcohol abuse and other tailgating incidents, it’s time to let the booze flow inside Heinz Field.