How Can Design Bridge Collegiate Athletics and Alcohol Sales?
Athletic directors at universities and colleges live in a hyper-competitive world where every opportunity to maximize revenues and enhance the fan experience is carefully analyzed. Not only are they competing against other athletic events, both professional and collegiate, but they also face the challenge of capturing discretionary dollars spent on other forms of entertainment. In addition, the advent of new technologies has only made their job more difficult. High-definition televisions; instant replays; in-game interviews; and detailed graphics all from the comfort of a recliner are hard to beat.
One move to enhance the fan experience and compete with the comforts of home has been the addition of beer sales at collegiate athletic events. A recent Sports Business Journal cover story explored college football’s increasing relationship with beer brands. Advertising, sponsorships, and on-campus sales are all growing in popularity. The Sports Business Journal story found that 36 college football stadiums are now selling beer at games, with many more athletic directors paying close attention to the results.
For years, alcohol was limited to exclusive areas such as suites and small meeting spaces, both reserved for sponsors, dignitaries and/or significant donors. Now, those sales are moving to the rest of the stadium.
Alcohol sales at sporting events are not new. They have long been a staple at professional competitions. Prudent policy and ample staffing levels are certainly appropriate tactics in addressing any issues that can arise as the result of excessive consumption. University administrators have an obligation to ensure those attending sporting events do so in an environment that promotes safety and enjoyment. The sale of alcohol does not in itself mean behavioral issues will arise, but plenty of evidence suggests that excess consumption contributes to unruly actions. The NFL reported that 8,000 people were arrested for transgressions where alcohol was involved at its events last year.
Design can be an important complement in helping event hosts provide a safe and enjoyable experience for all in attendance.
While policies and security staffing are important, and necessary, to prevent and/or address alcohol-induced issues, they are not enough. Facilities must look to design as another arrow in its quiver to prevent unruly behavior as a result of alcohol consumption from interfering with the fan experience.
We know that excessive alcohol consumption can result in atypical behaviors. At stadiums, this has resulted in tragedy in the form of individuals falling from one level to another. One alternative is to increase the height of protective railings. The downside is the potential for blocking the view of fans. A resolution to consider are some of the enhanced transparent materials, such as plastic or plexiglass, that can be extended without blocking views.
Facilities feature security command posts but those may be limited in number and can be far removed from portions of the stadium. Providing auxiliary observation structures throughout the stadium not only enhances monitoring capabilities, but could also hasten response times and provide a deterrent via visibility of security and/or law enforcement.
Another challenge comes in the policing of underage purchases, especially at the collegiate level. This is exacerbated when the venue is on a campus. Diligence in checking identification is helpful, but can be time-consuming and bottleneck service, causing crowding of concession areas/concourses which is an irritating and potentially dangerous situation. Plus, some concession staffers might not be of age to sell alcohol.
To address this, stadium designs might consider limiting beer sales to prescribed concession areas constructed to support appropriate staffing levels, security, and inventory of product. Consideration can be given to providing extra space for these areas and away from student sections, where the vast majority of fans are not old enough to buy alcohol. If possible, added space can be provided for customers to sit and consume in alcohol in a controlled environment with allocated restroom facilities.
The decision to sell alcohol at sporting events is not necessarily an easy one to make. It is imperative that the proper constituents be involved in the discussion to arrive at optimal execution of the plan. That must include the architect to provide input and design expertise.