Leistikow: FAQs after Iowa athletics' decision to sell alcohol at Kinnick Stadium, other events
Since a stadium renovation ahead of the 2006 college football season, beer and wine sales during Iowa home games have been available for ticketholders in suites and premium seats. Now, 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.
The university’s Thursday announcement is a gameday-changer. The pilot program will massively expand alcohol sales at four venues for the 2021-22 academic year — Kinnick Stadium, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Duane Banks Field and Bob Pearl Field.
After the school year, the athletics department and its partners will evaluate how things went and determine what changes need to be made. But make no mistake, alcohol sales are happening and here to stay in Hawkeye athletics.
To dig into as many particulars as possible, the Register compared data with the Hawkeyes' Big Ten Conference peers and interviewed Iowa administrator Matt Henderson, senior associate athletics director for external relations and revenue. While many details still need to be worked out ahead of Iowa's Sept. 4 football opener against Indiana, here’s an effort to answer some possible frequently asked questions (FAQs) from Hawkeye fans.
What led to this decision? Why now?
In his statement in Thursday’s UI release, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta emphasized that the decision was more about "enhancing the fan experience" than a cash grab. (More on the dollars in a moment.)
Barta has said in the past that Iowa wouldn’t be the first Big Ten school to OK general-public alcohol sales but it wouldn’t be the last. The Hawkeyes are indeed right in the middle, at No. 8 of 14 — following Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers into this relatively new world.
"We’ve recognized that more schools, whether it’s in the Big Ten or across the Power Five, began to sell beer and wine in the main stands,” Henderson said. “It became part of the general fan experience and expectation. We continued to have that dialogue with our partners. We want to continue to enhance the gameday experience, knowing full well that not everyone is in favor of this."
What beers will be available and how much will they cost?
As mentioned, many logistics (including pricing and a beer lineup) are not finalized.
Hawkeye Sports Properties has an existing sponsor relationship with Cedar Rapids-based 7G Distributing and Budweiser. So, it’s a very safe bet that Budweiser products — including Iowa staples Bud Light and Busch Light — will be on the menu. That relationship doesn't preclude other beer brands from being added to the lineup. You can expect a decent selection.
In the 2019 season, Illinois sold domestic beers for $7 and premiums for $8. That’s probably a pretty good barometer at Iowa in Year 1. Draft beers will be available at Kinnick, but look for the majority of Iowa’s alcohol sales to be pre-packaged (cans for beer, plastic bottles for wine) to expedite service times. A limit of two adult beverages per person at athletic events is the industry standard. At football games, sales would be cut off after the third quarter.
Won’t beer sales create even more crowded Kinnick concourses?
And they won't make the bathroom lines shorter, either.
It's an issue Henderson said the university is discussing. Kinnick Stadium was built in 1929, so there isn’t a lot of modernized infrastructure on decision-makers' side.
"Right now we’re spending a lot of time implementing points of sale and (navigating) what our fans already know is a congested concourse at times,” Henderson said, while acknowledging that there will be an increase in the number of concession areas — while also including some concession stands without alcohol altogether.
Another interesting wrinkle in the first paragraph of Iowa’s press release: Beer and wine sales won’t be available in "areas immediately adjacent to the respective student section."
Patience may be required in the first year of this endeavor, with the understanding that Iowa will try to improve things in Year 2.
How much revenue will alcohol sales at seven home football games generate?
Sorry for the vague answer but … somewhere between Indiana and LSU.
According to a December 2019 article in Newsweek (the end of the last college season with full-capacity stadiums), Indiana’s debut year of alcohol sales to the general public generated $470,000 (with an average attendance of 41,244 fans) in home games and LSU’s generated $2.26 million (with an average attendance of 100,842 fans). Considering Kinnick averaged 65,557 in 2019 and Barta told the Register a few weeks ago that he expects no capacity limits at Kinnick, Iowa should theoretically be somewhere near the middle.
Let’s generously say Iowa reaches $1.4 million in gross alcohol sales for football in 2021. Typical agreements with stadium concessionaires are a 50/50 split. That chops $700,000 off the top. And Iowa, in its release, said 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.
Athletics, under that scenario, would finish with $490,000 in alcohol-related revenues from football. That’s about 1% of the $50 million that Iowa athletics is borrowing from the general campus to cover its losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What ramifications will this decision have on tailgating?
Kinnick’s university-operated lots will open "no more than six hours prior to kickoff and no earlier than 6 a.m. on game day, regardless of kickoff time."
So, for a 2:30 p.m. game — all three of Iowa’s known home kickoff times (Indiana, Kent State on Sept. 18, Purdue on Oct. 16) are at 2:30 — lots won’t be open until 8:30 a.m. If Iowa’s game on Oct. 9 against Penn State is at night, it would likely kick off at 6:30 or 7 p.m. That means lots wouldn’t open until 12:30 or 1.
Iowa knows that could be a big change for some fans. In its press release, Iowa said its data showed that in 2019, 92% of vehicles using university lots arrived within six hours of kickoff.
The exception: RVs will still be able to park at Kinnick Stadium on the night before games.
Iowa’s six-hour policy is consistent with Minnesota’s. Purdue’s policy is eight hours.
“We’re confident that the six hours provides time for fans to still engage in their tailgate traditions,” Henderson said.
Obviously, there are no uniform restrictions on tailgates at non-university lots. In a statement, UI interim president John Keller said the policies are designed to allow fans to “enjoy game day traditions while reducing underage access to alcohol and the negative impacts of binge drinking.”
What should we know about other sports, such as basketball and wrestling?
Football is the big logistical challenge for the university staff and law enforcement, with 70,000 fans in one place for what can be an all-day affair — up to six hours of pregame tailgating, a 3½-hour game and postgame (victory-celebration?) tailgating. Any other sport pales in comparison in crowd size, not to mention that winter sports in Iowa aren't exactly made for tailgaters.
Henderson said additional points of sale would be added at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (men's and women's basketball and wrestling are the big ones) for beer and wine, but he did not expect fans to see major changes for events there. Alcohol sales will continue for Iowa volleyball in its new home, Coralville’s Xtream Arena.
Under its pilot plan, Iowa is not instituting beer and wine sales at events (such as soccer and field hockey) played on its west-side athletics complex.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.