Alcohol at Sporting Events

Author: Daniel Paglia

On a game day in South Bend, Notre Dame fans can likely be found drinking alcohol for hours before the game in the stadium parking lots. After the game concludes, regardless of the outcome, there is frequently a migration from Notre Dame Stadium to one of the surrounding bars — Brother’s, O’Rourke’s, The Linebacker Lounge and others. However, every Fighting Irish fan knows there will be a three-hour hiatus in their drinking during the game itself. Despite the age-old association between football and beer, Notre Dame Stadium has refused to sell alcohol at their concessions, even while looking to increase margins in a post-pandemic landscape of collegiate athletics. 

As college football continues to move forward with newer and more luxurious facilities and additional resources for athletes — including mental health and nutrition and massive NIL deals for five-star recruits — Notre Dame has relied on its tradition and history to stay afloat. Now, the university is forced to answer another question: Should the ban on alcohol sales at concessions be removed, even if it breaks away from tradition? 

Athletics programs across the nation are seizing the opportunity to improve margins  through the sale of alcoholic beverages, whether it be traditional power houses Ohio State and Texas or private universities Wake Forest and Vanderbilt. As viewership and ticket sales continue to dip across college football, frequently the highest-grossing sport on college campuses, there has been a push to put fans back into seats. Just a few short years ago, Notre Dame had one of the longest sellout streaks in the country, but the university has now struggled to fill seats, even in marquee matchups against the likes of USC and UNC this past season. 

In a 2019 article by Ross Dellnger of Sports Illustrated, Marty Kaufmann, an athletic administrator at the University of Illinois, was quoted as saying,A lot of people have tickets in their pockets in the tailgating area and they don’t come in. Maybe now they say, ‘Let’s go in and get a beer.’”

Kaufmann’s quote illustrates how alcohol sales could also impact the sales of other concessions in collegiate stadiums. Because the university wholly owns Notre Dame Stadium, as opposed to USC’s contractual agreement with the LA Coliseum, the revenue from alcohol sales would be largely maintained by Notre Dame, with a portion of sales also going to the vendor. 

While the sales of alcohol will surely awaken protests from some portions of the Notre Dame fan base that place tradition and moral superiority above all else, the university has already alienated them through different events held by the stadium. Prior to 2018, Notre Dame Stadium had never held a concert, but that changed in October of that year when Garth Brooks performed in front of nearly 80,000 fans. Guess what was sold at the stadium that evening? Beer and wine.

Moreso, the university refuses to serve alcohol at its general concessions, yet students and fans can look up to the club seats and see premium ticket holders enjoying all-inclusive beer and wine. So which way does the university want it: Should they ban alcohol sales to the general public in accordance with tradition and the vision of Notre Dame moral superiority while still providing it those they deem elite, or should they accept the modernity of the game and allow alcohol sales at all concessions? 

After games, the stands of the student section are littered with “shooters” of different types that students snuck into the stadium prior to the game. By allowing alcohol sales throughout the stadium, the university has the opportunity to boost concessions sales while also maintaining a form of regulation over alcohol consumption during football games. 

This past season, when the Fighting Irish played Wisconsin at Soldier Field for the Shamrock Series, various beers were served (albeit at an obscene price). When Chris Tyree returned a second-half kickoff for a touchdown, the quantity of beer bought by Notre Dame students was apparent when it showered down from above as cups were thrown in jubilation. While the sale of beer and wine does contribute to situations like this one, it is responsible for fewer altercations than one would expect. 

In the same Sports Illustrated article, Dellenger reported that Ohio State saw a 65% decrease in incidents within the stadium once alcohol was served, while Oregon saw a 49% decrease as well. When fans knew alcohol could be purchased within the stadium, there was less incentive to binge drink beforehand, leading to an increase in safety within the stadium itself during the game. 

If the sale of alcoholic beverages can increase margins for stadium concessions, boost attendance and is permitted at non-football events and among premium ticket holders at all times, why does Notre Dame still cite tradition as the reason preventing alcohol consumption during football games? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t be.