MADISON — Six years ago, Barry Alvarez told the Wisconsin State Journal the idea of selling beer at Camp Randall Stadium was something he wouldn’t even bring up with Wisconsin’s administration. But much has changed in the time since UW’s athletic director made that comment and it appears he’s coming around to the idea of pursuing it.
The topic surfaced during a town hall meeting last Saturday prior to the football team’s open practice. Alvarez was asked about potential ways they could get the stadium back to being one of the more intimidating venues in the country and he mentioned selling beer as something that might get students into the game on-time.
“I think one way to get there is if we sold beer in the stadium,” Alvarez said. “Instead of them tailgating until the middle of the second quarter, maybe they come in, have a beer and sit down and watch the game.”
The comment caught the attention of fans and left many wondering if enjoying a beer at the stadium was something they could expect relatively soon. That seems unlikely, with Alvarez saying they haven’t approached the other decision makers on campus about it, and it’s not something his own staff has talked about extensively. But it is on his mind, especially with so many other schools moving in that direction.
According to an article in the Des Moines Register, going into the 2018 season more than 50 FBS universities allowed beer to be sold at its football venues. That’s an increase of roughly 300-percent from 10 years ago. The number also includes nearly half of the schools in the Big Ten, with Illinois announcing earlier this month that it would join Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers in selling beer.
“The NCAA tournament sold beer. We sold beer at the Big Ten basketball tournament. It’s getting more and more frequent,” Alvarez said. “I haven’t read of any issues, and athletic directors who have done it on their campus, that I’ve visited with, have actually been very positive about it.”
Wisconsin’s drinking culture, on campus and in the state, is well documented. The attempts by the university to cut down on binge drinking stretch back more than 20 years. Certainly there will be some on campus that will be concerned about adding beer to an already alcohol-fueled game day, but Alvarez is not one of them.
“There’s no hesitance by me,” he said. “We’ve sold beer and wines on our unions forever. I don’t think that’s the case in most schools. You’d think we’d be open-minded as far as serving at our athletic venues.
Right now, the beer, wine and liquor sold at Camp Randall is limited to the suites on the east side of the stadium. Expanding beer sales into the general seating area would seemingly provide another significant revenue source. According to the Columbus Post Dispatch, Ohio State made $1.35 million in beer sales during the 2018 season. But Alvarez said going in that direction would not be financially motivated.
“It wouldn’t hurt, certainly,” Alvarez said. “It would be a positive cashflow, but it’s not going to make a difference in our budget.”
The process of getting to the point of selling beer at the various athletic venues is one that would need to go through a number of channels and Alvarez reiterated that it’s not his department’s call or something it has pushed for in the past. But he does foresee a conversation with those that would need to sign off on it.
“I think, in the near future, that’s something we have to move forward with and see what they’re thinking.”