For the first time ever, athletics staff sold alcoholic beverages at an Eastern Michigan University athletic event. During the football game, Saturday, in a sectioned-off patio area of Rynearson Stadium, 16-ounce craft beers were sold for seven dollars in an alcohol-selling pilot program.
In a phone interview Friday, Eastern Michigan athletic director Heather Lyke highlighted two main reasons for selling beer.
“It’s an opportunity for us to add a new element to our football game day experience, and we feel it will enhance the experience for those who are 21 and over,” said Lyke. “And revenue – always looking for new ways to increase revenue for the athletic department and try to be able to give back more to our university.”
Eastern Michigan became one of several dozens of colleges or universities and the fifth Mid-American Conference school to offer alcoholic beverages inside an athletic event. The trend has increased significantly in the past two years, despite image and safety concerns.
The patio area between the Convocation Center and the field was cordoned off to only allow two entrance/exit points. There were several event staff on hand checking IDs. Security personnel and police officers patrolled the patio. Servers were trained not to overserve, and Lyke said police could cut anyone off they felt had too much, or shut down the entire patio if things got too rowdy. Beer sales began an hour and a half before kickoff but ended at the beginning of the fourth quarter. No alcohol was allowed outside the patio.
“We feel like we have a really good plan as far as preparation for making sure that people drink responsibly,” said Lyke.
Fan reaction was mostly positive. Monroe, Mich, alumna Kate Hall enjoyed the beer patio. She was especially happy that EMU chose to serve Arbor Brewing Company beer.
“I think it’s great that they’re using a local partner to add something great to the game. I’m having a great time,” she said. “I feel like a true alumni. I’m at my football game. I’m having a beer. I love the Eastern Eagles. I always come to the games, and this just feels a little bit more spirited.”
Alcohol abuse has long been considered a problem at colleges and universities across the country, and A.D. Lyke said EMU was not targeting students for sales. Still, of-age students were not hard to find on the beer patio Saturday.
“It brings out the passion in fans,” said senior Jenna Mahoney.
“It sparked a passion for football today, and it was encouraged by beer,” said senior Sarah Skar, although she would rather have enjoyed her beer in the student section. “I wish we could leave the tent and go back to the student section. I can understand why they don’t want us to leave the tent, but at the same time I wish I could leave the tent. I think a lot of students don’t come over here [the patio] because we had to ditch our friends to come over to the beer tent.”
Both students were very supportive of the athletic department seeking revenue through alcohol sales.
“We want the football team to be funding itself,” said Mahoney. “However that happens, we want it to be responsible and safe, and we think the beer tent is doing that.”
“At seven dollars a beer they should be making money,” added Skar.
Lyke was very confident the beer patio would at least pay for itself, but she added that there would be a process to deciding whether or not to reprise the beer patio for future games.
“We do have some projections, and we will definitely cover our costs the first time through,” she said. “This is the very first time doing it. It’s a pilot. We have to evaluate.”
EMU football fan Dave Tanner, while supportive in general, thought a trial-sale was the right approach.
“I think it’s good they’re having a trial date for it,” he said. “I really think that’s the only way to determine if it’s a good idea or a bad idea. They’re selling beer here, but if the student body or the crowds can’t handle it, it’s a good thing it’s only one day. I’m excited. Hopefully it will turn out positive.”
As the comments on a recent MLive article about the alcohol sales imply, not every member of the community was behind the beer sales. EMU football fan Georgie Eifert was less than thrilled.
“I’m sad about it because it is an educational campus,” she said. “It’s just not good. They need to find another way of making money for the college or for the football program.” While Eifert didn’t support the university’s decision to sell alcohol, she was unwavering in her support for the football team and even suggested she’d pay more for her ticket. “I love football, and you can’t beat the price. I would even pay 20, 25 bucks.”
There were no noticeable disturbances on the patio during the game, and fans lined the patio fence to watch the game, beer in hand, throughout.
EMU’s next home game is this Saturday, Sept. 26, at 6:00 p.m. against Army.