When asked about alcohol sales during the Great Recession, a liquor store owner told me, “When people are happy, they drink. When they are sad, they also drink.” His point was that Americans imbibe to celebrate as well as to drown their sorrows, and thus, his business was able to weather the economic downturn.
Likewise, despite the ups and downs, Southeastern Conference football is always profitable. But after an abysmal start, University of Tennessee football fans are once again looking for ways to ease their pain. Thanks to the SEC’s recent volte-face, they have more options. Following years of attempts, on Aug. 1, 2019, the SEC finally instituted a rule permitting SEC football stadiums to serve alcohol to all of their adult patrons if they wish to do so.
While some schools have abstained from adopting this policy, the University of Tennessee and many others embraced it. Indeed, Tennessee administrators rolled it out just in the nick of time — during the deflating loss to Brigham Young University. As I pointed out before the SEC’s rule change, this is smart policy, and more schools should consider adopting it.
Though SEC football and delicious alcohol seems like a perfect marriage in football heaven, some administrators have been reticent to approve this union. As of June 5, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State administrators stated that they do not plan to permit general admission alcohol sales. Perhaps with more readily available alcohol, Auburn is worried that its fans will grow even more confused over whether the school’s mascot is a tiger or a War Eagle and the Crimson Tide will struggle to explain why it has an elephant on the sideline.
More seriously, though, most opponents of the alcohol policy have cited public safety and health concerns, as well as worries that this will lead to more underage drinking. But their objections are not well founded. First, underage alcohol consumption is already illegal, and if alcohol sales are allowed, stadium attendants will be able to regulate who is served. Second, a 2016 study found that crime did not increase when college stadiums permitted alcohol sales to all adult attendees. The University of Tennessee witnessed this firsthand at the BYU game, where alcohol sales had no effect on the number of in-game arrests. In fact, the reality is that when coupled with other policies, allowing stadium alcohol consumption may lead to less alcohol-related criminal activity, which has been the case at the University of West Virginia.
What’s more, allowing general admission alcohol sales may actually mitigate some public health issues. This is because football fans are less likely to get blitzed at a pregame tailgate if they can nurse their drinks and their buzz during the game, and while they’re there, stadium employees monitor their in-game alcohol intake.
Educational institutions benefit, too. Serving alcohol during games is a massively popular policy that leads to a financial windfall for colleges. In fact, the University of Texas collected over $3 million in alcohol sales revenue in 2016, and during the BYU game, the University of Tennessee sold nearly 23,000 alcoholic beverages — accounting for about $276,000 in revenue. This capital can be used myriad ways, including reducing the taxpayer burden of subsidizing public colleges or perhaps buying-out staggeringly disappointing coaches’ contracts (not mentioning any SEC names, but you know who you are).
Aside from all of these benefits, fans — especially Tennessee fans like yours truly — can use it to numb the pain of a humiliating season. Is that really too much to ask?
Beyond these issues, it seems like a matter of common sense to extend alcohol sales to general admission attendees. Most schools already sell it in the luxury boxes, so why not let the struggling plebeians in the cheap seats also partake?
The truth is that there just aren’t good justifications for opposing stadium alcohol sales. Dozens of colleges have already adopted these rules, and even professional teams sell alcohol on their premises. The remaining college hold-outs — like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State — should consider Tennessee’s example and its alcohol policy’s concomitant benefits. If this is really an issue of health, safety and underage drinking, then permitting supervised alcohol sales offers a great upside that also happens to result in a financial benefit. Indeed, this may be the University of Tennessee football team’s only win-win situation of 2019.