The University of Wyoming will soon join the list of Division I athletic programs that sell alcohol at football and basketball games.
Tasked with finding new revenue sources, UW’s athletic department brought a request to the Board of Trustees on Thursday to allow the sale of beer and wine at some sports games and other special events such as concerts starting in the 2017 fall semester.
Athletic Director Tom Burman said the request ultimately was a matter of enhancing the fan experience.
“Our aim is to create a more entertaining game atmosphere to encourage fan attendance while providing a safer, more controlled environment for fans who wish to purchase beer or wine beverages while attending UW events,” he said.
Six other athletic programs in the Mountain West conference currently sell alcohol at games, and Burman said it is a trend many universities are following. Additionally, he said allowing controlled alcohol sales during games and events could increase attendance, generate revenue, reduce the rate of attendees that over-consume hard alcohol and reduce the challenges law enforcement faces related to overconsumption of alcohol.
“We believe we can implement strong controls, which will help keep fans safe,” Burman said.
Conservative estimates for revenue potential from alcohol sales could add up to just less than $290,000 annually, according to figures from the athletic department.
UW Police Department Chief Mike Samp said he supported the request as long as measures to prevent underage and overconsumption of alcohol are in place.
“When this topic was first brought up from the athletic department, my initial response, my gut reaction, was that this could be a good thing if done properly,” Samp said.
The regulatory measures would include requiring age verification upon entry of the stadium or auditorium and at vending stations, providing hand stamps and wrist bands for those who wish to purchase alcohol, barring or heavily restricting re-entry and prohibiting alcohol consumption in tailgating areas after games or events begin. All vendors would be certified by Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS) alcohol training, a state-approved program that trains those selling alcohol to identify intoxicated patrons.
Burman and Samp said they assume prohibiting alcohol consumption in tailgating areas would not be favorable to all attendees but that it would be an essential provision of the plan.
“This may take some time for our fans to get used to, but we believe they will adjust,” Burman said.
Cutoff times for purchasing beverages would be in place for all games and events. Each game or event could have 3-5 vendors selling beer or wine at a price about $6-$8, Burman said. Two beverages could be purchased at one time.
Burman said it’s possible a person legally able to purchase alcohol could pass a beverage to an underage attendee. However, he said Samp indicated more time could be spent monitoring attendees in the stands during a game or event with open containers prohibited in tailgating areas.
“If we get can get (Samp’s) crew — sheriffs, city police, university police — to not be so focused in the tailgating areas, where they can come into the stadium and observe the student section and see someone doesn’t have a bright armband but is holding a beer, will be significantly improved,” Burman said.
Many fans who want to drink alcohol — particularly at War Memorial Stadium — tend to sneak in small containers of hard liquor, Burman said. With stronger controls in place, he said the hope is to reduce the incentive and ability of fans to bring in alcohol.
“I can tell you first hand the amount of alcohol concealed that comes into the venue today is significant, mostly in the form of small bottles of hard liquor,” Burman said. “One pint bottle is equal to 11.9 beers. We’re hopeful fans who are consuming an entire pint would chose to purchase beer instead of sneaking in hard liquor.”
The proposal received overwhelming support from most of the board and other stakeholder representatives, such as Associated Students of the University of Wyoming President Michael Rotellini and Gov. Matt Mead’s representative to the trustees Mary Kay Hill.
A resolution passed by the A-Team — a UW organization dedicated to addressing matters related to alcohol — did not oppose the sale of beer and wine at games and events. Though she “vehemently opposed” the sale of alcohol at games and events in the past, Vice President for Student Affairs Sara Axelson said her department also supported the plan with the proposed regulations. Burman said the Wyoming Liquor Division also supported the proposal and secured a grant for UW to use to purchase state-of-the-art technology for scanning IDs.
A 9-2 roll call vote by the trustees approved the request, with Mike Massie and Mel Baldwin voting “nay.” David Palmerlee was absent.
Massie was the sole voice of opposition to the request during Thursday’s meeting, expressing his doubt about the rationale that having controlled alcohol sales would do more good than harm.
In researching the matter — which included studies from sources such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Journal of Sports Economics and the National Bureau of Economic Research — Massie said he found that problems with alcohol on college campuses are significant and introducing controlled alcohol sales didn’t always yield the intended benefits.
Additionally, young university students facing challenges with alcohol need their institutions to serve as a moral authority when it comes to matters of alcohol, Massie said. UW selling alcohol at games and events could be detrimental to efforts to curb alcohol abuse, he said. Utlimately, Massie said UW events and games don’t need alcohol to entice attendance or enthusiasm.
“The enthusiasm we have for Cowboy football and basketball is great and was built not on the fact whether we can get beer at a game or not,” Massie said.
The correlation between sexual assault and alcohol use on college campuses, including UW, was also a concern Massie addressed. Trustee Michelle Sullivan said she generally supported selling beer and wine at games and events, but wanted assurance that UW’s leaders address problems related to sexual assault and alcohol.
“I’m willing to support this as long as we watch it carefully and commit as trustees to examining more deeply the issues of sexual assault,” she said.
President Laurie Nichols said she shared the concern and that a group is already assembled and tasked with putting together a plan to address sexual assault at UW.
“I’ve charged this group with putting together a plan to do much more mandatory training and much more education on campus, and to really get students involved,” Nichols said. “We’ve introduced this with ASUW as well, and I think we have a few ideas we’re talking about doing even in spring semester. It’s on our radar and we’ll do this regardless of the vote today.”