Monday, March 10, 2014

Is Alcohol the Experience Enhancement College Football Needs?

Marketers of live sporting events are responsible for persuading fans to get off the couch (or mobile device) and invest time and money to attend games. In an environment that offers more entertainment options and indirect sports consumption opportunities than ever, more fans seem to be deciding to skip live events. This trend is particularly noticeable among younger people, with college students being among that group giving lower priority to attending games. In a recent column, Darren Rovell identifies several top-tier college football programs that have experienced alarmingly high percentages of student ticket holders not showing up for games. This trend is occurring despite the fact that students typically get heavily discounted or even free tickets to games. The effects of empty seats is felt in food and beverage revenues as well as a less than ideal picture for TV cameras- empty seats.

Is Alcohol the Answer?

One SEC athletic director is ready to consider a potential solution to rekindling the interest of students and others disinterested in attending football games: Sell alcohol in venues that are neutral sites or home games held off campuses. LSU AD Joe Alleva said in a recent interview that the SEC will review alcoholic beverage sales policies for neutral site and off-campus home games. Selling beer at football games "would enhance the fan experience," according to Alleva. Access to alcohol at venues could add to the appeal of attending a football game as an entertainment outing. And, as Alleva asserts, fans are drinking already before games while tailgating, so selling alcohol during games could be a way to control the quantity and intensity of consumption ($10 cups of beer could be another form of consumption control, I suppose). It is widely assumed that the lack of alcohol at college football stadiums is a turn off for many people weighing their entertainment options.

Walking a Fine Line

The co-mingling of alcohol and college athletics is not new. Many people question the appropriateness of beer brands sponsoring college teams and events. Selling beer at football games would be the latest chapter in an ongoing battle with alcohol consumption among young people. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol contributes to 600,000 injuries, 97,000 sexual assaults, and 1, 825 deaths each year among college students ages 18 to 24. Ignoring stats like these would be to pretend that there are no problems with alcohol abuse among college students. Promoting alcohol consumption via beer sales at college football games would seem to send the wrong message, that higher education institutions are oblivious or unconcerned about the issue. Also, incidents of unruly fan behavior fueled by excessive drinking are all too common at sports venues. Exactly how alcohol would enhance the fan experience or at the expense of how many other fans are concerns many people would raise as this issue is being considered.

An Opportunity

Assuming that alcohol policies like the one that will be reviewed by the SEC gradually are relaxed and beer sales occur at college football stadiums, a huge opportunity will be created to demonstrate social responsibility. Alcoholic beverage marketers, higher education institutions, college football programs, and advocacy groups seeking to protect young people can collaborate to promote responsible consumption. Maintaining a pleasant experience for non-drinkers as well as create a safe environment for all fans will be paramount to the addition of alcohol sales enhancing the fan experience.

What is your take- Should college football stadiums allow beer sales? Will it enhance the experience of attending a college football game if attendees have the option of consuming beer?