By: Zack Rosenblatt and Kyle Johnson
In season four of The Simpsons, Homer Simpson was arrested for a DUI and lost his driver’s license.
Marge convinced him to give up beer for one month. With the struggle getting harder by the day, Homer attended a baseball game to try and take his mind off of sobriety.
As it turns out, he’s the only person in the stands NOT drinking a beer.
“I never realized how boring this game is,” Homer said, as the ball boys argued over who would retrieve a stray beach ball that landed on the field.
Now imagine a baseball game at the University of Arizona. It’s a blazing hot, Sunday afternoon — the perfect time for a nice, cold brew.
Except the stands were empty, and beer wasn’t for sale.
This was the scene at Frank Sancet Field, the previous home of the UA baseball program. The stadium was on campus, sitting at the corner of Sixth Street and National Championship Drive, so proximity was not an issue. The stadium was a staple of the UA campus for 40-plus years, but it lost some of its allure.
The team was still good — making the NCAA Tournament in eight of the first 11 years of the 2000s — but the stadium was desolate at best, empty at worst.
When the Wildcats ended their tenure at Frank Sancet Field with a final home game on May 29, 2011, against the University of Washington, there were 1,003 fans in attendance. The Field had a capacity of 6,500.
By comparison, at Arizona’s new stomping grounds in Hi Corbett Field, there were 4,386 fans in attendance for the Wildcats game against ASU on April 30.
Peter Richmond, a sports writer, once said: “Beer needs baseball, and baseball needs beer — it has always been thus.”
Hi Corbett has beer, and its attendance has thrived.
The correlation between beer sales and attendance might be coincidental, but ever since Arizona picked itself up and moved to Hi Corbett Field, adding beer to its concessions in the process, things changed.
“It was one piece of the puzzle,” said UA athletic director Greg Byrne. “We knew people like to drink a beer at a baseball game. And, you know, being off campus we thought that was something would be another positive aspect of people being able to come to the games. It’s gone very well overall.”
Arizona is a basketball town first, football second when it comes to college sports. But they don’t sell beer at the McKale Center, or Arizona Stadium.
The baseball program doesn’t earn quite the profit of Sean Miller or Rich Rodriguez’s squads, so head coach Andy Lopez and the baseball program needed something to set itself apart.
In fact, Byrne said that even after winning the College World Series last year and being second in the West in attendance for most the year, the season was still a net loss.
But, fans are pouring into Hi Corbett at a profoundly greater rate than two years ago.
In the final 68 games at Frank Sancet, there was an average of 980 fans. In the first 68 at Hi Corbett — 2,651.
“Let me tell you, the beer sales at Hi Corbett certainly make the game more interesting,” said Karin Matel, a vendor at Hi Corbett. “Of course with all the different flavors we have. It’s been quite well out here, it’s really helped out the sales in regards to attendance and we haven’t had any problems.”
All the profit that comes from beer sales goes into the gross revenues for the baseball program, Byrne said.
“The concession area gets a piece of it, then we get a piece of it,” he said.
The Arizona-Sonora News Service tried to contact John Perrin, the senior associate director of Athletics, pertaining to revenue figures. Perrin did not return multiple ASN phone calls or e-mails.
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to adding alcohol to a college setting is, well, adding alcohol to a college setting.
So far, so good for Arizona, as it nears the end of its second year at Hi Corbett.
“I don’t think anybody’s abused it,” Lopez said. “Which is kind of nice. None of the administrators has told me ‘We’ve had a brawl out here with 10 guys.’
He said it:
“Beer is a major part of college athletics. First of all you have to accept that fact. Anywhere you go in the country, with maybe the exception of BYU or Baylor or somewhere were they don’t drink out of religious reason.
“But, everywhere else, it’s a major part of the culture and we accepted that. And then we decided it makes more sense to control it than it does to just try and prevent it from seeping into your fan base.”
— Oliver Luck, West Virginia Athletic Director
“It’s like anything else in life, it’s tough to legislate morality. It’s why they had prohibition one day in this country. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing if people don’t abuse it.”
Arizona isn’t ahead of the curve when it comes to adding beer sales, though. Rather its one of several schools following a trend of adding alcohol sales.
West Virginia University just beat the UA to the punch, adding beer to the concessions for the 2011 football season.
Both Byrne and WVU athletic director Oliver Luck agree that beer and college sports are natural partners and, at the same time, put a little extra money into the school’s pockets.
Beer also makes the games safer, or at least it has at West Virginia.
“We had, what I would say was, a pretty significant drinking problem at our football games,” Luck said. “Beer is a part of football and alcohol is a part of football, it’s been that way forever. But, people were drinking too much; behavior was getting a little bit bad.”
When WVU hired Luck in 2010, the fans at the football games were notorious for their rowdy behavior. The school also had an outdated rule, allowing fans to leave and re-enter the stadium whenever they pleased.
The rule created a halftime tradition where fans would leave the stadium to go to their tailgates, binge drink to regain their “buzz back on” and then return once the second half started, Luck said.
Luck wanted the rule to go, but the tradition was heavily entwined with the game day experience. So he came up with a solution that both the Morgantown, W.V., and campus police chiefs agreed with — eliminate the outdated policy and instead add beer to the concessions.
West Virginia’s Net Revenue from beer sales:
– Arizona attendance increased 170% from 2011 to 2012.
– In last 68 games at Frank Sancet Field, Arizona had 66,612 fans
– In first 68 games at Hi Corbett Field, Arizona had 180,281 fans.
“We’re not letting people do what they’ve done for 50 years,” he said, “but at least we can say to those people, ‘Hey you can go out, but you can’t come back in. But if you really want to have a beer, go to the concession stands and buy yourself a beer, like you do at pro stadiums.’”
The prices aren’t as cheap at Milan Puskar Stadium, yet fans have accepted the change in policy. More importantly, though, the decision has been very effective in terms of safety and curbing violence.
The number of arrests has declined and public safety team has seen a 20 to 30 percent decrease in the amount text alerts it receives during games, Luck said.
The athletic director admitted that it might seem counter-intuitive to sell beer in order to increase safety, but so far that’s been the case.
“The vast majority of people are responsible,” Luck said, “and they like the fact that they can buy a beer.”
Arizona didn’t have a security issues at Frank Sancet Field like West Virginia. Yet in a similar fashion to Morgantown, the addition of beer hasn’t made the problem any worse, Byrne said.
“Just like every game you have an incident or two throughout the season,” he said. “But, they’ve been very minimal at hi Corbett with our baseball program.”
Some extra spending cash
While improved security is obviously priority No. 1, Luck said it never hurts to put a little bit of money into a school’s pocket either.
Arizona failed to provide details on the exact amount of revenue from beer sales, but Byrne said the total revenue increased 500 to 600 percent from the year before. Most of that came from the additional bodies in the stadium, as attendance increased roughly 170 percent, but beer sales didn’t hurt.
West Virginia averaged $571,725.36 of net revenue over the past two seasons from beer sales, and when that’s added to the improved security, Luck said he’s very satisfied with outcome.
Arizona might not have beer at its football games yet. But, beer and baseball isn’t a bad consolation prize.
“There’s really no better way to spend a nice summer afternoon then at a baseball game drinking beer, in my opinion,” said UA student Brice Dixon during the Wildcats’ 10-9 victory April 16 against Arizona State.