(Photo Credit: IU Athletics)

IU football games just got a little more fun. On Tuesday, the administration announced a “pilot program” to serve beer and wine at Hoosier football games.

Athletic Director Fred Glass noted that the program is meant to increase the game day experience and decrease the amount of alcohol related incidents in and around the stadium. Glass emphasized that the primary motivation for this program is not revenue. In fact, the University will be donating 10% of net alcohol-related sales revenues to campus alcohol safety programs.

The administration has been considering this idea for a while and even hired a consulting firm (Wasserman) to study the program’s implementation at other universities. The consulting firm’s findings revealed that serving beer and wine increased overall attendance. Furthermore, the 50 university study found a reduced number of alcohol-related incidents after introducing beer and wine sales. The IU release specifically mentioned a 65% decline in alcohol-related incidents at Ohio State after the first year of the program and a 35% decline at West Virginia.

Certain Indiana basketball games have provided alcohol for boosters and “special guests,” but not the general public at large. While this new release does not specifically mention the possibility of expanding the program to cover basketball games, the administration noted they were creating a task force to choose a vendor and oversee the logistics of the policy, including whether the sales could eventually spread to other IU venues.

The Trend

More and more universities are beginning to sell alcohol at sporting events. According to the Des Moines Register, at the beginning of the 2018 season, there were 52 FBS schools selling alcohol at their stadiums. This number has continued to rise since the report came out. Several Big Ten schools are amongst those selling alcohol, including Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, and Purdue.

While the IU administration says profit is not the program’s primary motivation, there is no question that there is money to be made.

During Purdue’s first full season selling alcohol at football games, the Boilermakers reported that alcohol sales exceeded $550,000. Of that amount, about $388,000 came from beer and wine alone.

For Ohio State, the numbers were even higher. The Buckeyes pulled in a staggering $1.35 million in beer sales alone during the 2017 season.

Sure, these concourse revenue sales are impressive, but for entrepreneurial universities this is only a part of the revenue possibilities. Like everything else in college sports, branding can open even more doors.

The University of Texas partnered with Corona for their “Horns Up, Limes In” campaign and created a Corona-branded “beach house” tailgate zone. The University of Houston secured a deal with Bud Light, giving their parent company Anheuser-Busch the right to use certain elements of Houston’s branding for products and marketing.

Moreover, many universities have decided to create their own brands, instead of partnering with large alcohol conglomerates. Purdue is among the schools that created their own signature beers. Purdue’s “Boiler Gold” and “Boiler Black” signature brews were a big hit amongst not only the Boilermaker faithful but also Indiana craft beer enthusiasts. Purdue partnered with Lafayette-based People’s Brewing Co. for the creations and a portion of the proceeds of the craft beers go directly to the College of Agriculture’s food science department.

Tulane, LSU, Colorado State, and Louisiana-Lafayette (the University that started the trend in 2015) also have their own signature, self-branded beers.

Thus, while IU has only taken the first step of instituting a pilot program, the possibilities are endless. Not only could the program better the game day experience, it could also result in solid revenue gains and intelligent branding opportunities. Stay tuned because the Cream and Crimson Lager might be coming your way soon.

More important than money…

Across the country, college football attendance has been declining. The Big Ten saw their lowest average attendance since 1993. Everyone knows that Indiana football has had historical problems bringing fans in to the stadium. With television technology getting better year over year and accessibility to watch football games on more platforms than ever, the actual live-game experience has a ton of competition. Is alcohol the answer to get fans back in the stands?

Beyond the revenue, improved attendance can benefit the Indiana football program during a critical juncture in the program history. The Hoosiers are trending upward with recent player news: QB Jack Tuttle is declared eligible by the NCAA and 4-star WR Rashawn Williams joins Indiana as the highest-rated recruit in program history.

Indiana has a coach that wants to change the culture of the program and the mental image around what Indiana football represents. Tom Allen is also embracing the changing of the times and understands the importance of meeting fan expectations. Instead of fighting for tradition, the combination of Fred Glass and Tom Allen have shown their interest in being practical and by listening to fan feedback. Namely, they have reduced ticket prices and they have also re-added names on the back of jerseys.

There is even added pressure from a growingly successful program in West Lafayette.

But can beer actually bring more fans in the Memorial Stadium and have them stay throughout the fourth quarter? There seem to be conflicting view points and varying results.

The University of Louisiana-Lafayette began selling beer in their stadium in the year 2013. The following year, they reported a 34.1% increase in the attendance of students at games in the first year of inception.

Minor League Baseball has reported statistical relationships between promotional beer sales, but they have not found a statistically significant relationship between alcohol revenues and attendance. Essentially this means that Indiana may have different strategies depending on overall objectives. If they are interested in making money, then they may try to price beers at a more profit-maximizing point. Otherwise, if they are looking to increase attendance, they may take a page out of the Bluebird’s Wednesday night playbook and offer reduced-priced alcohol sales.

A study completed by Chastain, Gohmann, and Stephenson (2015) found that there was no statistical significance between the availability of beer and attendance of fans to games. However, this study was completed a group of mid-major schools in the MAC, WAC, and Sun-Belt conferences.

Indiana also needs to understand what they are committing to with the sales of alcohol. In a different study completed in 1996 at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the university saw a decline of 29% in season-ticket holders after they banned the sale of beer at home football games. The ban was the result of excessive consumption on campus and their hopes to reduce the rate. The study suggested that the banning of beer had a significant relationship with ticket sales.

Overall, the decision shows the direction of the program and the willingness to be flexible and adapt as needed. Whether or not the alcohol experiment works, the Indiana staff is taking the right direction to be pragmatic when it comes to fan experience. The Indiana football program needs all the support it can get. If modernizing policies and getting with the trend can help that, fans should be glad that athletic director Fred Glass and head coach Tom Allen are willing to make the proper adjustments. Of course the product on the field will bring in more fans than any Hoosier brew, but this policy change could provide just the right amount of catalytic nudge that the program needs.

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