After modest amounts of speculation and rumor-mongering, the University of Iowa athletic department finally ripped the band-aid off on Thursday morning. Despite being roughly a decade late to the party, Gary Barta has finally decided the time is right for broader availability of alcohol at University of Iowa sporting events.
On Tuesday, the AD issued a press release indicating the department will be running a pilot program for the 2021-2022 academic year wherein alcohol, which has been available to the donors with the deepest pockets in suites and club areas at both Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena for 15 years, will be sold more broadly to fans at Iowa sporting events. That will include both football and basketball in Kinnick and Carver respectively, but also baseball and softball in Duane Banks Field and Bob Pearl Field.
So how much money could the department make from this? As mentioned in the mailbag piece earlier this week, the simple answer is quite a bit, though not nearly enough to close the massive budget gap created by the lack of fans in the stands a season ago.
As indicated in that earlier piece, Minnesota has averaged ~$1.3M in alcohol sales in recent years. TCF Bank Stadium is ~30% smaller than Kinnick Stadium so the back of the envelope math comes out to around $1.7M in sales. For additional reference points, Indiana in its first year of sales did a little under $500,000 in alcohol sales, while LSU did ~$2.26M in 2019 (the last season without COVID impacts). Now, attendance in 2019 was ~50% higher at LSU than at Iowa, but it’s safe to assume Iowa trends closer to the Tigers than the Hoosiers.
So sticking with the $1.7M rough estimate based on Minnesota, given it falls pretty well into the middle of that range of Indiana to LSU, we can run down the line to get actual financial impact for Iowa. As noted by the Des Moines Register, most vendor agreements have a 50/50 revenue split between the vendor and the provider so let’s assume Iowa’s cut of that $1.7M is ~$850,000. Per the press release from Iowa, the athletic department will be giving 30% of that net revenue to “research-based initiatives developed and supported by the UI Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee, formed in 2009 to decrease high-risk drinking and the related harmful consequences.” That leaves the athletic department with roughly $600,000 to put toward that big donut hole in the budget, or roughly 40% of the shortfall that had been expected in the three sports being cut - men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics.
Now, that $600,000 figure isn’t huge, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either. It’s more than 1% of that nice $50M loan the department took from the University earlier this year. And that’s why it’s hard to believe Barta when he says “this decision was based on enhancing the fan experience and providing an additional amenity to our fans.”
If that were the case, this would have been done nearly a decade ago when Minnesota made the leap. Did they not care about fans then? Or any year since? Or maybe this is related to the revenue.
Either way, fans will now be able to imbibe inside Kinnick, Carver, Duane Banks and Bob Pearl. For what that may look like, we turn to the Des Moines Register and an interview they had with senior associate athletics director for external relations and revenue Matt Henderson.
Henderson notes that details are still being worked out and this is in the preliminary stages, but right now it sounds like Iowa will be following the lead of our Big Ten brethren. We are, after all, the 8th team in the conference to make the move after Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers.
That likely means a two-drink maximum for adults and sales stopping at the end of the third quarter. It also means drinks are likely to be priced around $7 for a domestic beer and $8 for premium offerings. Because there are infrastructure needs, year one is likely to lean heavily on pre-packaged drinks in the form of canned beer and plastic bottles for wine with the potential for some limited draft beer.
What beers, specifically, would that be? That’s still to be determined, but the University has an existing contract (reminder, they’ve already been selling alcohol, just not to the common folk) with 7G Distributing and Budweiser. So Bud Light and Busch Light are virtual locks to make the cut, but Iowa is also likely to offer a variety of more premium drinks at that higher price point.
Henderson also indicated that will likely lead to an increase in the number of concession stands on the concourse with some, notably those near the student section, not offering alcohol at all. Given the age of Kinnick and limited work that can be done to make adjustments, fans should expect longer lines at concession stands and restrooms alike.
The other notable impact for fans will come to tailgating. In conjunction with the sale of alcohol inside the stadium, the University is capping tailgate times. Specifically, University lots will now open no more than 6 hours ahead of kickoff and no earlier than 6am CT (so 5 hours early for 11am CT kicks). There’s no change to post-game times, but this is a big shift for Hawkeye fans.
It’s more impactful given Iowa’s schedule this year. Of the three home game start times announced thus far (Indiana on September 4th, Kent State on September 18th and Purdue on October 16th) all are 2:30 CT starts. For those games, tailgating won’t be permitted until 8:30am on gameday. Iowa’s matchup against Penn State on October 9th is rumored to be a 7pm start candidate, which would mean fans wouldn’t be able to start tailgating until 1pm CT.
Henderson was quick to point out that in 2019, 92% of cars entering university lots didn’t do so until hitting that six hour window. It’s worth noting, however, that a nearly 60% of Iowa’s home games in 2019 were 11am kicks, meaning nobody was entering outside that window.
At the end of the day, this is a net positive. There will be some negative impacts to fans, such as longer concession and restroom lines and a reduction in tailgating hours. But there will be more dollars in the coughers of the athletic department at a time when that’s severely needed and fans that wish to continue their pre-game experience or simply enhance their in-game one with an adult beverage will now be able to do so.
That’s a net positive for most Hawkeye fans.
Here’s the full press release from the University of Iowa:
IOWA ATHLETICS TO EXPAND BEER AND WINE SALES AS PART OF PILOT PROGRAM
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa Athletics Department announced Thursday the creation of a pilot program to expand beer and wine sales at athletic facilities. Beginning this fall, beer and wine will be available for purchase throughout Kinnick Stadium, with the exception of areas immediately adjacent to the respective student section. Athletic events at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Duane Banks Field and Bob Pearl Field will also be included in the pilot program during the 2021-22 school year.
“We have been working with our campus partners on this for some time now and we are committed to maintaining a safe and enjoyable game day environment. While there is an opportunity for increased revenue, this decision was based on enhancing the fan experience and providing an additional amenity to our fans,” said Gary Barta, Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair. “At the conclusion of the 2021-22 academic year, we will work with our campus partners to review this pilot program.”
Thirty percent of net alcohol sales will be directed towards research-based initiatives developed and supported by the UI Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee, formed in 2009 to decrease high-risk drinking and the related harmful consequences.
The athletics department will also modify its parking lot hours as part of the pilot program. In the past, UI controlled parking lots opened for tailgating at 6 a.m. on game day, regardless of kickoff time. Beginning this fall, parking lots will open no more than six hours prior to kickoff and no earlier than 6 a.m. Parking on the night prior to football games will be limited to RVs only. There are no changes in postgame policies.
“We recognize that the pregame atmosphere around Kinnick Stadium is a significant part of the fan experience,” said UI Interim President John Keller. “We are adopting policies that encourage Hawkeyes to enjoy game day traditions while reducing underage access to alcohol and the negative impacts of binge drinking.”
Data from the 2019 season indicates 92% of vehicles utilizing university controlled lots on game day enter within six hours prior to kickoff.
Iowa joins seven other Big Ten schools who currently sell beer and/or wine in public areas at its home football games. Approximately half of the schools from the Power 5 conferences will sell beer and/or wine at their home football games this fall.
Fans continue to be encouraged to alert Iowa Athletics about inappropriate or unruly behavior by either calling or texting the UI Athletics Game Day Hotline (319-384-3000) and reporting your stadium location. Upon receipt of your message, an Event Services team member and/or law enforcement personnel will assist when necessary.