Goalposts moved a little closer for beer and wine sales in Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall, as the Tuscaloosa City Council Tuesday evening approved a liquor license for Levy Premium Foodservice LP, the University of Alabama's concessionaire.
The ball now passes to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board's license approval mechanism. Crimson Tide football, AP's pre-season No. 1 pick, kicks off at home, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 3 against the Utah State Aggies.
Beer and wine sales could extend to other sports venues on campus, such as Coleman Coliseum for basketball and gymnastics, and the softball team's Rhoads Stadium.
"We think it's going to really enhance the fan experience that all of our fans, at our different events, will enjoy and want to be a part of," said Stuart R. Bell, UA's president.
Assuming licensing goes forward, UA will join several other Southeastern Conference schools offering alcohol concessions. Previously, liquor sales have been limited to the Founders Suite skyboxes in Bryant-Denny. For the first time, beer and wine would be sold in public areas of the 100,077 capacity stadium, fourth-largest in the SEC, eighth-largest stadium in the United States, and the 10th-largest stadium in the world.
Herbert Tesh, representing Levy Premium Foodservice, answered council questions about mechanisms moving forward. Levy has previously handled beer and wine sales at Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas.
Among other things, Tesh noted there would not be beer-hawkers in the stands, though some may be moving around toward the back of concession-stand lines, to keep the lines flowing. All service employees will have to go through a two-hour safe-server alcohol class, and every sale will depend upon customers proving they are at least 21 years old.
"If you look 80, we're gonna card you," Tesh said. "I know it'll be a little bit of a pain, but ... We've gotta do it. it's the only way to proceed."
Levy employs an analytical group to study alcohol-related incidences, Tesh said, which concluded " ... if anything, the data suggested it was flat, or went the other way....People weren't getting tanked up before the game."
Councilor John Faile offered the sole no vote. Tuscaloosan David Parr spoke against the license, as a longtime fan and former UA student.
"This is the first year I did not buy tickets, because of this," he said, adding he'd likewise avoid UA gymnastics or basketball if alcohol sales go through. "I personally don't have anything against drinking, but if I'm going to pay 80, 100, 150 dollars to go somewhere, I want to feel comfortable...."
UA had approached the City Council for a liquor license previously this winter, aimed at sales for Coleman, but that effort got stuffed at the line when the city announced a service fee on ticketed events where alcohol's sold.
At the time, athletics director Greg Byrne announced UA wouldn't move forward, but then cut back upfield in June, after a deal resolved the issue. Rather than pay the service fee, UA will donate $250,000 to the city each year from 2024-2028, designated for Tuscaloosa police officers and firefighters.
Councilor Kip Tyner noted that the compromise, benefiting the city's police and fire departments, made the difference in his approval.
"Honestly, if it weren't for that, I would probably be voting no," he said.
The SEC lifted its ban on stadium-wide alcohol sales Aug. 1, 2019. Schools have jumped on potential for increased revenue, and the reported decreases in binge drinking at tailgates, the so-called "pre-gaming," chugging booze before entering a dry stadium, along with the sly smuggling of miniatures and flasks in purses and under clothing.
A NCAA report indicate alcohol-related incidents diminished following the adoption of in-stadium public sales, "... in some cases significantly."
"Certainly we're not on the leading edge of this," Bell said. "We're probably a campus that is a little bit slow to move."
But having looked information shared by other schools, and members of the Tide fan base, UA concluded this was the right time to proceed, he said.
Finances played a part in the choice for some schools. In the first year for SEC sales, Texas A&M generated about $2.4 million in alcohol revenue. But Alabama, remaining one of the country's more prosperous programs, with for example a 2018 profit of $48.2 million from football, on revenues of $111.1 million, wasn't pushed to jump on the bandwagon.
Pandemic losses urged the adoption for some schools, as alcohol sales may increase attendance, and urge fans to enter the stadium sooner, rather than wait outside, tailgating until kickoff.
In 2007, only seven schools sold beer to the public. By 2016, about 40 did. By fall 2019, after the SEC lifted its ban, that number nearly doubled, to 78. At bowl games, playoff events, and other college tie-ins, alcohol's long been on the menu.
The SEC has these requirements:
• Alcoholic beverages can only be sold at designated stationary locations
• Alcoholic beverages may not be sold by vendors within seating areas
• An ID is required at every point of sale
• 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
• Staff are required to take safe-server training, and training on how to handle high-risk situations
• Designated stop times for sale and distribution of alcohol must be enforced. For football, that's the end of the third quarter; for men's basketball, the second half 12-minute TV timeout; for women's basketball, end of the third quarter; baseball, top of the seventh inning; softball, end of the top of the fifth inning; and for other sports, no later than when 75 percent of regulation length is scheduled to be done.
"It leads to less, let's say, negative consumption," Bell said, when fans know they can enjoy a drink inside the game. "So I don't think it's going to be that much of a difference ... and we hope that it ends up a positive experience for our family.
"And if we don't have that positive experience, we'll re-evaluate what we're doing, certainly."
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alcohol may be sold in Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall; awaits approval