'Safe, legal, responsible': Iowa AD Gary Barta details plan to bring alcohol to Kinnick Stadium

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said beer and wine sales in Kinnick Stadium won't be a major revenue driver for the university. But that wasn't high on his priority list to begin with. Fans' gameday experience was. And what does it mean for the fans returning in the fall?

It could be a game-changer.

Throughout the years-long process, Barta prioritized three factors in addition to fan experience. 

"We've been talking about this for the last five or six years," Barta said. "We're about safe, legal and responsible. So how do we do it safely? Obviously if people are underage, that would be illegal. The goal is to have a great time, have fun and be safe about it."

For the first time, the University of Iowa athletics department has opened the gates to alcohol sales to anyone 21 or older during events, starting this fall at Kinnick Stadium

Last season, in what was perhaps the most successful athletic season in school history, one key component was missing: fans. This year, in the first athletic event of the calendar year (a Sept. 4 home football game against Indiana), fans will be welcomed back to Kinnick with a new amenity.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented several challenges for the athletic department but 2020 might not have been the first year for beer/wine sales, anyway. 

"We want to make sure we're ready for it and do it the right way," Barta said. "This seems to be a good year to get it rolling. We're going to try it, see what we learn from it and any errors or things we need to improve upon we'll do it heading into next year." 

Kinnick stadium hasn't seen a full capacity crowd since November 2019. The next time that will happen: Sept. 4, 2021 against Indiana, fans will be able to purchase beer and wine throughout the stadium for the first time.

Iowa is eighth team in the Big Ten Conference to introduce full-scale alcohol sales. Barta said the school now feels comfortable with the prospect of alcohol being sold at sports events. 

"There was no magic as to when," Barta said. "Now that seven or eight schools have done it we've learned a lot from their experience and it just felt like the right year. There wasn't one thing that triggered this decision this year, it had just been building up over the last five or six years." 

More:Leistikow: FAQs after Iowa athletics' decision to sell alcohol at Kinnick Stadium, other events

The financial implications are still unknown. The school will incur a large investment fee up front in year one and usual concession splits are 50/50 (school gets half, concessions company Aramark gets half). Based on projections from Iowa's home capacity compared to other schools in the country, Iowa's net sales could fall between $1 million to $1.4 million in year one.

In addition to the 50/50 concessions split, 30% of net alcohol sales “will be directed toward research-based initiatives developed and supported by” the UI Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee, which was formed in 2009 to decrease high-risk and binge drinking. according to the school's original press release. 

The good news? Barta is not expecting fan restrictions in Kinnick, where capacity sits at 69,250. 

The Iowa football team hasn't played in front of a capacity crowd in over a year. Their Sept. 4 home opener against Indiana is not expected to have fan restrictions.

"It will generate some (revenue)," Barta said. "Some schools have made a few hundred thousand, some have made 500-600 thousand — I have no idea, there's a lot of up front costs. 

" … At the end of the day it's about fan experience. Our fans come to the game and want to enjoy a beer or two or a glass of wine. It's now available." 

More:Leistikow: 5 topics with Iowa AD Gary Barta, who says 'all systems go' for full Kinnick Stadium

The last time full-capacity was permitted at Kinnick, Iowa defeated Illinois 19-10 in late November 2019. The Hawkeyes have won six of their last seven home games. 

Barta is expecting a sold-out crowd and ahead of a marquee season opener (both Iowa and Indiana are projected to be Top 25 teams). After the long absence of fans, he imagines a lively home crowd. 

More:Which Big Ten schools sell alcohol during football games to the general public?

"Two highly ranked opponents, a Big Ten game right out of the gate," Barta said. "We've been missing that opportunity to watch live sports for over a year now. So I think it's going to be a great environment, I think Kinnick is going to be alive.

"... I just can't wait to see the team coming down the tunnel in 'Back in Black.' Our student-athletes haven't been able to play in front of a crowd for over a year. And then finally I picture the fans waving to those kids in the hospital, I get tingles. So looking forward to the gameday experience and how awesome it is in Kinnick." 

Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com