University of Illinois will expand Memorial Stadium beer sales to concessions in general seating areas starting this fall, part of larger athletics department initiative.
Along with Memorial Stadium, Illinois will also make beer available at concessions in the general seating areas of State Farm Center. Plans to allow beer sales at baseball’s Illinois Field and softball’s Eichelberger Field are also being finalized. It is possible that Illinois will offer public beer sales for the final three Big Ten baseball series at Illinois Field this spring. Beer availability at softball games is expected to begin in 2020.
“We are continually looking for ways to improve fan engagement and augment our in-game fan experience,” said UI Director of Athletics Josh Whitman. “The opportunity to purchase beer at our events was the number one request in a postseason survey of our football ticket holders. Fans indicated beer sales would encourage their use of purchased tickets and would increase the length of time they stayed in the stands. Schools with public beer sales generally see fewer alcohol-related issues. We have spoken with several peer institutions offering beer to ensure we are following best practices for implementing this change. We have studied the issue extensively and, with the collaboration and support of our colleagues in various offices across campus, we feel now is the right time to add this new element to our game-day experience.”
The expansion of beer sales was vetted and supported by the UI administration, as well as other key internal groups. Division I universities are permitting alcohol sales with greater frequency inside athletics venues, with more than 50 of the 129 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs allowing in-stadium alcohol sales to the general public. Illinois will join five other Big Ten schools selling beer in-stadium in the fall of 2019, including Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers. In addition, the NCAA Executive Council recently approved alcohol sales at NCAA Championship events.
Beginning with the 2019 football season, beer will be available at several general stands around Memorial Stadium and the other facilities. A wider selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks will continue to be sold only in premium club/suite areas of the stadium and arena. A portion of revenues generated by the increased sales will help pay for additional police officers and other additional security measures at home football games.
Illinois has served alcoholic beverages at football and men’s basketball games in premium seating locations within Memorial Stadium since 2008 and State Farm Center since the 2015-16 season. Alcohol has been sold at State Farm Center for most concerts and special events since 2008. Beer was sold at Memorial Stadium in 2002 when the Chicago Bears played their entire schedule in Champaign while Soldier Field underwent renovation. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) has implemented a public beer tent in Grange Grove outside Memorial Stadium for the past three seasons prior to home football games. Illinois also sold beer at one baseball game at Illinois Field during the 2018 season.
“Allowing fans to purchase a beer at collegiate sporting events has been a growing trend for several years,” said Senior Associate Athletics Director Marty Kaufmann. “This is something we’ve monitored for quite some time as other schools have ventured into public alcohol sales. We have proceeded with due care and caution in our study of the issue. The feedback we have received from our fans has overwhelmingly asked for this availability, and we feel we are appropriately prepared to start this process at our athletics facilities.”
The below policies will be among those enforced as part of a complete alcohol management plan:
- Valid ID is required for purchase. All guests must be 21 years of age to purchase alcoholic beverages.
- A limit of two beers purchased at one time per legal ID for stands in the east/west side and horseshoe.
- Limit of one beer purchased at a time per legal ID in the north stands, where students traditionally sit.
- Sales would begin when gates open at football (90 minutes prior to kickoff) and basketball (60 minutes prior to tip).
- Beer sales would end at the end of the third quarter during football games, while monitoring night games for a time to be determined. During basketball games at State Farm Center, sales will end at a predetermined time after halftime. At baseball games, beer sales would be suspended after the middle of the seventh inning, and for softball games, after the middle of the fifth inning.
- Beer will be sold in aluminum cans and bottles. Additional recycling receptacles will be added at Memorial Stadium and other venues, and, as has been the case for several years, all trash from Memorial Stadium is processed through the campus recycling center.
DIA’s concessionaire, Spectra, will be responsible for maintaining the liquor license for all DIA venues, along with coordinating the proper training of concession workers for beer sales. Plans are to sell 16-ounce beverages in only cans or plastic/aluminum bottles. In Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center, tentative prices will be $7.00 for domestics and $8.00 for premium/craft beers. Prices at baseball and softball are tentatively set to be slightly less expensive and range between $5.00 and $6.00.
Image courtesy Fighting Illini Athletics.