Alcohol and university sports Examining the benefits and drawbacks of selling alcohol at varsity games

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By: Justin Parker

Alcohol and sports have a longstanding relationship. Whether it’s watching a game on TV at a bar or waiting in line at the concession stand, many spectators enjoy a drink while watching the game. This relationship gets a little bit more complicated for collegiate sports.

At a venue where a significant percentage of attendees are likely underage, it is much tougher to ensure a safe and legal drinking environment for everyone watching the game. Ultimately, everyone wants to have a good time, relax and cheer on their team. Uncontrolled alcohol use can ruin that, but a total lack of alcohol can also lessen the experience.

Currently, you can buy beer at every Marauders football game, but it must be consumed in the beer garden in the north end zone. In addition to this, there are occasional volleyball and basketball games that will offer beer to be consumed in the mezzanine while watching the games.

The selling of alcohol at all events hosted by McMaster is under limitations set by the campus-wide liquor license held by the university. A four-page administration policy for alcohol can be found online. Gord Arbeau, director of communications at McMaster University, sums up the view of the policy.

“McMaster prioritizes community safety and ensuring campus and our events are welcoming and inclusive,” Arbeau said. “The alcohol policy reflects that priority and supports this approach. Certainly, when alcohol sales are permitted by the policy, the university fully expects those permitted to sell alcohol follow our rules and the laws of Ontario.”

Being able to sell beer to fans in the stands might raise sales, but this would give the university less control over who is exactly drinking beer after it has been purchased.

While these regulations are meant to ensure a safe environment for drinking, there is also an administrative recognition that some spectators want to drink alcohol and have fun. It is a constant balancing act to ensure alcohol is not consumed in excess at events held on campus, but it is better to have spectators drinking in a controlled environment rather than an off-campus party pre-game.

“It’s just trying to balance things in terms of giving fans what they want, but also making sure we have a safe environment while trying to encourage the appropriate behaviours,” said Glen Grunwald, the director of athletics at McMaster.

Beyond ensuring a safe environment, the university also has financial considerations for these events. As it stands now, the university isn’t selling a lot of alcohol at the moment.

“We think it helps football, but when we do have it at basketball and volleyball we don’t have a lot of sales,” said Grunwald. “We’ve talked about it, but again, the cost of setting up the beer garden and hiring staff, doesn’t really justify the amount of money we make in terms of revenue and sales we have for beer.”

Being able to sell beer to fans in the stands might raise sales, but this would give the university less control over who is exactly drinking the beer after it has been purchased, so it is limited by the liquor license.

Would more alcohol lead to a higher attendance rate? For the 2016-2017 season, McMaster ranked second in Ontario University Athletics conference for football attendance. Basketball and volleyball recorded less attendance than football, but all rank in the top ten in the OUA in their respective sports (men’s basketball ranking the highest at fourth).

Offering more alcohol available wouldn’t hurt attendance, but it likely won’t significantly increase the average attendance. Having some alcohol in a controlled environment is better than nothing, and as long as fans can cheer on their team in a safe space, there is no need to increase availability.

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