On January 27, 2022, Tuscaloosa News reporter Nick Kelly had written about a proposal to sell alcohol in the University of Alabama‘s Coleman Coliseum. “Alabama athletics is in the process of bringing alcohol sales to Coleman Coliseum for men’s and women’s basketball as well as gymnastics and it could start in February, pending approval by the City Council of Tuscaloosa.”
Giving a food service entity a liquor license had seemed to be a slam dunk. Few such applications had ever been turned down by Tuscaloosa‘s City Council.
Doubtlessly the members of the Council had been made aware of the problems associated with alcohol sales at college sports events. The food service provider had doubtessly been required to be insured as much as was possible for the legal liabilities associated with providing alcohol to sports fans.
College Ad‘s 2018 article had given both “pros and cons” of alcohol at NCAA events and had weighed in favoring the idea. “Like with new found freedom, there is certain to be a case or two where someone may take things too far but as time goes on and alcohol sales at NCAA championship events become the norm, the NCAA expects good judgment to prevail.”
On the other hand many other articles expressed concern about alcohol sales. Paul Steinbach in his 2004 article “Sporting Events and Booze a Volatile Mix” called for “effective alcohol management’ policies.
He wrote about the role of beer service employees at ball parks:
Most parks now include video surveillance equipment that can home in on specific seat locations, but beer hawkers, concessions-stand workers and ushers equipped only with their own eyes are also relied upon to recognize the tell-tale signs of intoxication, or in some cases the mere probability of intoxication. A hawker who sees a stack of empty cups beneath the seat of a single fan may opt to avoid eye contact with that individual or avoid his or her section altogether. A concessions-stand worker who recognizes repeat visits by one individual must keep in mind that it takes at least one hour for the average fan to metabolize the alcohol that is found in two 12-ounce beers. As a large button pinned to his or her uniform typically states, any vendor reserves the right to refuse service.
Collegiate Times‘ Olivia Nelson wrote about Virginia Tech’s sale of alcohol in Cassell Coliseum. She wrote:
While the sale of alcohol does generate extra revenue for the school and can contribute to an exciting fan experience, Virginia Tech must reconsider how alcohol can negatively impact the game. If Lane Stadium is to continue to sell alcohol, the university needs to be more mindful of who is purchasing drinks and must design a more effective system for distribution. Whether or not attendees arrive at the stadium intoxicated, the ability to purchase alcohol during the game further increases the potential for disruptive behavior.
A 2008 WebMD article addressed problems with underaged drinkers at professional sports venues. “Underage or drunken fans are often able to buy alcohol at sports stadiums, especially if it’s purchased from a vendor in the stands, according to a study. The study, by University of Minnesota researchers, shows that underage fans are able to purchase a drink 18% of the time and intoxicated fans are able to purchase a drink 74% of the time at pro sports stadiums. Both groups are 2.9 times more likely to succeed in their purchase attempts if they buy from someone in the stands as opposed to going to a concession booth.”
The Stateman‘s Cameron Boon in 2014 questioned the sale of alcohol at Stony Brook.
With the legal drinking age at 21 years old, it makes it very difficult for schools to start selling alcohol at collegiate sporting events.
One big reason for this non-selling of alcohol is because of the presence of college students at the games, most of whom are underage and cannot drink at all.
“There is a family environment when you go to a college sporting event,” Daniel Stephens, a freshman here at Stony Brook said. “It’s not supposed to be as rowdy and crazy as a professional sporting event.”
At the University of Alabama, in 2014, when alcohol consumption was allowed in a “free section” at the baseball field Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande had written “Experience the party (and beer funnels) in the new right-field Alabama baseball seats.”
The Alabama baseball game was the spot to start the Friday night party and the new right field section was the host.
Perhaps its popularity exceeded Alabama’s expectations.
Approximately 1,500 students packed the terraced picnic-style seating beyond the right-field wall for Alabama’s 2-1 loss to Stephen F. Austin. They brought their dogs, friends and the booze.
The right field seating must have been too much of a good thing. Obstreperous behavior by fans at a game had resulted in the University’s having changed its policy. The Crimson White‘s Kevin Connell had written that the capacity of the free section would be limited to 1,100 and students were required to provide identification in order to drink.
An article in Food Liability Insurance Program had stressed that vendors at sports events be fully insured, although liability over sales to minors would not be insurable. An example had been given:
A minor attendee was served alcohol at a brew festival sponsored by the insured. After leaving the festival, the underage attendee got into the car, lost control of his vehicle and struck a telephone pole. He suffered severe facial lacerations. The attendee sued the event sponsor and the beer vendor for illegal service to a minor and received $150,000 for bills.
The article had said that “Most liquor liability insurance policies exclude assault and battery or illegal service, such as selling alcohol to a minor. In some cases, you may be able to purchase additional assault or battery coverage.”
Obviously the importance of not selling alcohol to minors would be a major concern at any University sports event. The City Council had always been reassured by alcohol vendors that they had been “fully insured.” Surely the Council members had been aware that that there had been no liability coverage for the consequences of alcohol sales to minors.
Any idea that the University or licensing body (the Council) might share liability with the vendor must have been not considered a legal problem.
Checking identification at the gates and providing wrist bans to fans who were eligible to purchase alcohol might have been a successful strategy to prevent the accidental selling of beer to minors. But such a strategy would have been unpopular to fans because it would have necessitated that fans arrive early.
University of Alabama Athletic Director Greg Bryne had seemed to have few concerns. He was quoted in The Tuscaloosa News as having said: “We’ve been able to watch the other schools and the reporting we have gotten back from other schools is that alcohol incidents at their games actually go down once they sell because it’s a much more controlled environment.”
Maintenance of the facility would have needed to be more robust. Cleaning rancid popcorn was one thing, but spilled beer would have required entirely another level of cleaning. Whether there would have been areas where beer could be consumed, located away from seating, had not been decided.
Many fans had always come to sports events in T-Town to enjoy the excitement of athletic competition. Buying an addictive beverage had never been part of their plans.