Tailgates have long been a beloved tradition in college sports, providing an opportunity for fans to gather, eat and drink before attending the games.
But over the past decade, the drinking has moved from outside the stadiums to the stands as schools turn to alcohol sales for revenue.
A survey by The Associated Press revealed that 55 of 69 (80 percent) of schools in the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame sell alcoholic beverages in their stadiums during games. The remainder is split between selling alcohol in more private areas such as suites and not selling at all.
While alcohol has been sold in stadiums in a variety of ways for years, the numbers saw a spike in the late 2010’s, especially after the Southeastern Conference gave schools the green light to sell alcohol in 2019.
‘Since the SEC made that decision, other Power Five conferences followed suit, and we’ve seen an exponential rise,’ said Texas A&M health and behavioral scientist Adam Barry.
The Southeastern conference allowed schools to sell alcohol at games in the 2019-20 season
According to the Associated Press, some fans still prefer to tailgate over drinking in venues
According to the AP survey, 19 Power Five schools began selling alcohol publicly in 2019. Before that, only 20 schools allowed the practice. Since then, 16 other schools including Michigan State, Kentucky and Stanford started selling alcohol in football stadiums.
In July 2023, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a legislation to lift the state-wide ban on alcohol sales. In response, Michigan State was quick to move.
‘I didn’t have much trepidation because we’re not the first,’ said Marlon Lynch, Michigan State’s chief safety officer. ‘It’s been done for years.’
On the other hand, The University of Michigan is starting small with basketball and hockey games this winter before considering alcohol sales at the Big House for football games. The University of Wisconsin is following the same steps.
‘We have to take slow steps in order to implement this because it hasn’t been a part of our culture,’ Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said. ‘This is a way to phase that in, see what the data says and then talk to the regents and the president again.’
These schools may be right to take things with caution given the history of alcohol and sporting events.
Michigan State, Kentucky and Stanford recently started selling alcohol in football stadiums
Schools such as the University of North Carolina have seen net sales increase due to alcohol
In 2022, police reported 22 liquor law violations that led to ejections, five public intoxication charges that all turned into arrests and a simple assault and public intoxication combo that also resulted in an arrest at a game between Tennessee and Alabama.
‘One of the things that makes us unique is a collegiate atmosphere,’ Michigan Regent Paul Brown said of the board approved applying for liquor licenses at the school’s football, basketball and hockey venues. ‘It is different than the pro sports that always serve alcohol. I think that difference is one thing that creates value for our institution. And so, I don’t want to destroy that value.’
From a business standpoint, schools such as the University of North Carolina have seen the financial benefits of alcohol sales. Since selling Twisted Tea, Modelo and White Claw at games, UNC’s $320,213 net sales in 2019 has quadrupled.
‘Athletic departments typically are not profitable,’ Barry said. ‘So, selling alcohol has simply become a new revenue stream.’