eer could soon be coming to a stadium near you, specifically E.J. Whitmire Stadium in Cullowhee, home of college football’s Catamounts.
Tailgating is already a fixture on football Saturdays in Cullowhee, but long-standing tradition around the country has kept on-site beer sales at collegiate athletic venues at bay.
However, those traditions are eroding, and rapidly.
Last year about a third of major universities allowed beer sales in football stadiums. This year, for the first time in the history of NCAA’s March Madness, venues hosting the men’s basketball tournament took beer and wine from being restricted to on-site clubs and suites and allowed sales in formerly restricted public spaces.
And now in North Carolina, legislation is in the works to open up stadium sales at the state’s public universities.
Republicans John Bell of Wayne and Rick Gunn of Alamance have talked to “law enforcement, administrators and students, and we believe this is a positive step for safety and economic growth,” Bell wrote in a tweet earlier this month.
Gunn also jumped on Twitter, saying “This is a great economic move for public universities and all of the college sports fans in our state!”
Obviously, the legislation has yet to pass in final form, but in general the plan is to sell beer and wine, but not hard spirits, at events. The decision to do so would be up to individual schools’ boards of trustees.
As is the case with any legislation related to alcohol, there will probably be opposition to this move. Here in Jackson, opponents turned back a countywide “brunch bill’’ that would have allowed alcohol sales at restaurants as early as 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
But Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings are different creatures, and we don’t expect that kind of opposition to this measure.
“WCU supports the idea that campuses should be given the option to permit the sale of alcohol at athletic venues,” Chief Communications Officer Bill Studenc said last week. “University leaders will be studying this new proposal very closely and weighing the pros and cons.”
There are on-campus security concerns to be addressed, and issues such as when concessionaires would quit serving alcohol.
Across the country, the popularity of serving alcohol at collegiate events has taken hold largely due to two factors: Revenue and the couch.
College athletic programs are expensive to run, and not all schools have wealthy benefactors who can reach into their wallet to help boost a football program. New revenue streams are constantly being sought, and beer and wine sales can be lucrative.
The couch may be harder to overcome. Saturday afternoon football games have long been major social events, but in an era where many games are televised or at least live-streamed, it’s tempting just to stay at home where a stocked fridge means no waiting in line for beer or food, there’s no line for the bathroom and if the game is boring, there are many others to choose from at the flip of a remote. And there’s no difficulty finding parking at your own house.
Western hasn’t suffered from that trend of late, leading the Southern Conference in attendance the last two years, in spite of an eight-game losing streak to end the season after a 3-0 start. Of course, WCU has something of a secret weapon to draw crowds: The Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, well worth the price of admission by itself.
As to revenues, WCU’s athletics program needs all it can get, and alcohol sales could give a needed boost.
Currently net concession stand revenues are split between Aramark, WCU’s campus dining partner, and the athletics department, which gets 25 percent. Those funds aren’t earmarked for any specific program. Studenc says revenues can vary a good degree based on how well the team is playing, how many home games are on the schedule and how kind – or hostile – game day weather can be. University concessions for the most recent fiscal year were $123,325.
For now, the ball is in the legislature’s court, and then it’s the board of trustees’ call. We trust they’ll make the right one.