The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced Tuesday that it will add beer to public concessions options in general seating areas at Memorial Stadium (football) and State Farm Center (basketball) beginning this fall. Plans to allow beer sales at Illinois Field (baseball) and Eichelberger Field (softball) 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.
In a university release, athletic director Josh Whitman said the changes should help attract fans and actually foster better fan behavior. "We are continually looking for ways to improve fan engagement and augment our in-game fan experience," Whitman said. "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."
Moreover, Illinois is simply following a nationwide trend. At least 50 of the 129 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs, including five Big Ten Conference schools besides Illinois, allow in-stadium alcohol sales to the general public. "We have spoken with several peer institutions offering beer to ensure we are following best practices for implementing this change," Whitman added. "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 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.
Illinois' concessionaire, Spectra, will be responsible for maintaining the liquor license for all athletics venues, along with coordinating the proper training of concessions 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 for domestics and $8 for premium/craft beers. Prices at baseball and softball are tentatively set to be slightly less expensive and range between $5 and $6.
Since 2008, Illinois has offered beer, wine and mixed drinks in certain premium seating areas, and will continue to do so.
Illinois has won just four Big Ten games under current football coach Lovie Smith, who is 9-27 at the school overall. In the wake of the school's alcohol announcement, one fan website's headline read, "How Illinois Fighting Illini Football Fans Can Drink Their Way To Lovie Smith's Buyout This Fall."
But others toasted the school's plan.
"Nothing except winning is going to solve Illinois’ attendance problem. But the athletic department has come to its senses and decided to add one ingredient to help in the meantime: alcohol," wrote Shannon Ryan in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune. "Save your jokes about Illini fans needing to be plastered to bear watching the football team. This was a smart move that will help attendance and boost revenue."