Pitt facing nationwide issue of alcohol sales at sporting events


Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Meg Millure / Staff Writer

When Pitt’s Athletic Director Scott Barnes first took the position in 2015, he told a local reporter he was open to the idea of selling alcohol at Panther football games.

The next day’s headline, “Pitt considers alcohol sales at Heinz Field,” prompted Barnes, months later, to laugh about how he learned to watch his words with the press.

But now that he’s preparing for his second year on the job, Barnes is — for real this time — “seriously considering” the possibility of brews at ballgames, though he’s still not offering any substantial information on when that might happen.

While patrons can buy alcohol from concession stands during Steelers’ games at Heinz Stadium, alcohol sales are currently forbidden during Pitt games except for in premium seating areas of the stadium.

At the time of Barnes’ comment hinting at alcohol at Heinz, 32 Division 1 stadiums offered beer sales during games. Since then, Pitt Athletics spokesperson E.J. Borghetti said in an email to The Pitt News, more schools have followed suit.

“[Allowing alcohol sales during football games] is a growing trend across college athletics, and we are assessing whether it is right for Pitt,” Borghetti said.

He added that Pitt is still in the “research and evaluation stage” of considering to implement beer sales.

Drinking at football games is already a concern for law enforcement and universities, as excessive alcohol usage isn’t uncommon outside Heinz Field’s gates.

But selling alcohol inside the stadium could actually reduce the amount of pre- and postgaming that happens outside of the stadium, according to West Virginia University Associate Athletic Director for Communications Michael Fragale.

At WVU, where alcohol has been available at football games since 2011, Fragle said allowing alcohol sales during sporting events has actually reduced arrests and violence.

“We think there’s a direct correlation to our alcohol sales and incidents going down,” Fragale said.

Along with a no re-entry policy, local law enforcement supported WVU’s decision to allow alcohol sales, and it’s paid off.

“[Allowing alcohol sales] has been very well recieved from visiting fans from the Big 12,” Fragale said. “Our fans have become accustomed to it, they like it and it’s been a positive thing really for us.”

WVU cashes in from beer buyers, earning, on average, from $500,000 to $600,000 per year from alcohol sales at football games. Beer prices average at $8 in order to control consumption, according to Fragle.

West Virginia and Pitt are each part of  “Power 5” conferences — where more and more schools are joining the beer movement.

Unlike WVU, Pitt has to take into account the restrictions and opinions of a professional football team, which may make introducing alcohol sales more tricky — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Though there may be a growing trend of alcohol being sold at college games, the idea isn’t so new to the University of South Florida.

For the past 18 years — since the USF Bulls have begun playing football in a stadium they share with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers — alcohol sales have been permitted throughout the stadium.

Brian Siegrist, the associate athletic director for communications at South Florida, said in the 11 years he’s been at the university, there has not been a problem with alcohol sales.

Siegrist said game attendees come to college games looking for the same experience they find at Buccaneers games — and their expectations include alcohol.

“We live in a pro-sports town where everyone expects to be able to drink at games,” Siegrist said.

Penn State University may be one of those schools contributing to Borghetti’s “growing trend” theory. The Penn State Board of Trustees is considering altering the school’s no alcohol policy this May, according to associate athletic director Jeff Nelson.

Depending on the outcome of May’s vote, Penn State may begin where Pitt has — selling alcohol in controllable areas, such as suites and club seats.

Nelson said Penn State wants to use its stadium as a concert venue, where alcohol sales are common.

Pitt has been “looking into” the possibility for more than a year, but nothing appears close to finalization. When it comes to mixing alcohol and college students, Fargale said he understands why the administration doesn’t want to rush into a decision.

“I guess we’re the pilot school as far as alcohol sales. We were one of the first to go in that direction,” Fragale said. “I don’t know that it works everywhere. For the time being, for the first five years, it’s worked very well here.”

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