Beer Sales Brimming in Big Ten, But Not at Wisconsin

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A perennial top-10 party school according to most rankings, the University of Wisconsin may soon be in the minority among Big Ten Conference peers when it comes to abstinence from beer sales at athletic events.

As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, seven Big Ten schools will have beer flowing in their football stadiums in 2019. The UW is among the seven that will not. A spokesperson for chancellor Rebecca Blank said that she isn’t considering the introduction of beer sales in general seating areas at Badgers home games. "The university believes that there is already an atmosphere of energy and excitement around Badger game days," the spokesperson said. "The addition of alcohol to general seating areas isn’t needed to improve that experience and could detract from it for our students and fans."

At Wisconsin, the decision rests with the chancellor and not athletics officials, who declined to respond to queries about the topic. The university's prohibition predates Blank’s tenure, which started in 2013.

Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase in premium seating areas — suites and club seats — at UW Football’s Camp Randall Stadium and at the Kohl Center, where the Badgers play basketball and men’s hockey.

Roughly 55 of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision schools now sell beer in general seating areas. Ten years ago, fewer than a dozen schools did so. Stadium alcohol sales are expected to be discussed this week at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Florida.

A report by Wasserman, a consulting firm employed by Indiana in its deliberations on whether to start selling beer and wine at football games, found that alcohol-related incidents fell by 65 percent at Ohio State and 35 percent at West Virginia, an early adopter outside the Big Ten, in the first year of sales.

Related: Sales Up, Misbehavior Down at WVU Football Games

However, those findings have been contradicted by other studies. "In general, the rule of thumb is: More alcohol available, more drinking. More drinking, more problems, I’m sorry to say," said George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "I wish it were otherwise. I think the American public could use a good bit of education about alcohol."

Some schools see stadium-wide alcohol availability as one means of enticing fans to ditch their high-def TV options and tailgate parties in favor of actual attendance. Wisconsin averaged more than 15,000 no-shows for home football games in 2018, and the average number of spectators for games at Camp Randall fell to the lowest number in 13 years. The average of 61,844 tickets scanned per game was down 13 percent from the high of 71,076 in 2007.

There is hope for those who wish to be able to buy a beer at UW’s concessions stands. The athletic department’s new five-year agreement with concessions provider Learfield Levy Foodservice LLC includes language about re-examining the terms if the school decides to sell alcoholic beverages in general seating areas at Camp Randall and the Kohl Center.

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