The SEC has revised its policies on the availability of alcohol at athletics events to grant schools the autonomy to set their own rules, opening the door to possible sales of alcohol in stadiums during play, the conference announced Friday.
There will still be some conference-wide rules in effect that will keep the range of possible options available to schools fairly narrow:
The revised policy adopted by the presidents and chancellors requires institutions to implement a series of Conference-wide alcohol management procedures, including the establishment of designated stationary sales locations, a restriction prohibiting sales by vendors in seating areas, a limit on the number of alcoholic beverages purchased per transaction and designated times that sales must cease specific to each athletics event.
But the change is significant enough for at least one SEC president to be trumpeting it as something that could “enhance the game-day experience”...
“We are proud of the great game-day atmospheres the SEC and our member schools have cultivated throughout our history, and no other conference rivals the SEC in terms of our ability to offer an intense yet family-friendly atmosphere for all of our fans,” said University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, current chair of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors. “This policy is intended to enhance the game-day experience at SEC athletics events by providing our schools the autonomy to make appropriate decisions for their respective campuses while also establishing expectations for responsible management of the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.”
...even if SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey struck a more reserved tone in his quotes:
”Our policy governing alcohol sales has been a source of considerable discussion and respectful debate among our member universities in recent years,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “As a Conference, we have been observant of trends in the sale and consumption of alcohol at collegiate sporting events and have drawn upon the experiences and insights of our member schools which have responsibly established limited alcohol sales within controlled spaces and premium seating areas. We remain the only conference to set forth league-wide standards for the responsible management of the sale of alcoholic beverages.”
“We are committed as a Conference to ensuring that all changes in policy are implemented in ways that respect and sustain the traditions that make the SEC game-day experience exceptional for all attendees,” Sankey said.
The in-venue sale of alcohol has recently been seen as a possible panacea to slumping ticket sales and attendance numbers in sports, especially for college football, with the theory holding that fans who can continue to drink alcohol inside a stadium rather than having to choose between a boozy tailgate and the relative sobriety of the stands will be more inclined to actually attend games, and might curtail some of their more intense drinking at tailgates.
On-premises alcohol sales to the general public could also provide a substantial new revenue stream for athletics departments keen to capture as much of game attendees’ spending as possible. Many venues also have established premium seating areas where alcohol has been sold, too, as is the case in some premium areas of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the post-renovation version of the O’Connell Center.
And University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin sounded open to — if not exactly gung-ho about — the idea of implementing in-stadium alcohol sales in comments made earlier this week.
But just how many fans truly have been opting to drink instead of heading into a stadium is very much debatable, and the increased risks to public health and safety of selling alcohol inside venues have made most bodies cautious about loosening restrictions. The SEC’s decision comes after recommendations from a working group — which included stakeholders at different levels from around the SEC, including Dr. Michael Sagas, a University of Florida sports management professor who also serves as the school’s Faculty Athletics Representative — that was created at the 2018 SEC spring meetings.
While these rules will allow all 14 SEC schools to sell alcohol, it seems likely that those member institutions may well come up with 14 different policies in the wake of their issuance.
These policies go into effect on August 1, 2019, and thus will not affect any on-campus events hosted by SEC programs through the final weeks of the 2018-19 academic year.
A full explanation of the policy change, taken directly from the SEC’s release, is below.
SEC Game Management Policy on Alcohol
Each institution is permitted to determine the permissibility of selling alcoholic beverages in athletics venues and shall establish a policy governing the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages in its athletics facilities.
Institutions that offer alcohol sales in public areas must incorporate Conference-wide alcohol management expectations, which include:
- Alcoholic beverages are to be sold and dispensed only at designated stationary locations;
- Alcoholic beverages may not be sold by vendors within the seating areas;
- Identification check is required at every point of sale to prevent sales to minors;
- Alcoholic beverage sales are limited to beer and wine only (no hard liquor or mixed drinks may be sold in public seating areas);
- Limits must be established on the number of drinks purchased at one time by an individual;
- Alcohol must be dispensed into cups;
- Safe server training and additional training for staff to handle high risk situations is required; and
- Designated stop times for sale and/or distribution of alcohol must be enforced as follows: Football (end of 3rd quarter); Basketball (Men’s-Second half 12-minute TV timeout; Women’s-End of 3rd quarter); Baseball (end of the top of 7th inning); Softball (end of the top of the 5th inning); and Other Sports (At a designated time, no later than when 75% of the event’s regulation length competition is scheduled to be completed).
Each year, the Conference membership shall review this policy to determine institutional compliance with established expectations and evaluate fan conduct and alcohol-related incidents for the purpose of determining the need to revise the Conference’s alcohol policy.
Implementation of these management expectations does not include suites, clubs or private leased areas.
Each institution shall establish a policy for the admission of outside food and beverage into its facilities.
As with all areas of the stadium, maintaining the safety of patrons and participants and maintaining an atmosphere suitable for families is of utmost importance.
Advertising displays mentioning or promoting alcoholic beverage shall not be permitted in any playing facility with the exception of common point-of-sale signage.