By Pat Harty
CHICAGO – Like it or not, it’s coming, probably sooner than later.
I’m predicting that within three to five years, alcohol will be available at Kinnick Stadium for any ticket holder who is of legal drinking age.
I have felt that way for a while, but even more so now after listening to Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta address the topic on Tuesday at Big Ten media day.
Barta told reporters that if alcohol is ever sold at Kinnick Stadium, the motivation would not be to make money, but rather to improve the fan experience.
“If we do it at some point, it’s primarily going to be motivated by fan experience, and not some sort of ability to make more money,” Barta said. “We would see an uptick in resources and revenue, but if we ever do it, it won’t be for that reason.
“It would be because the fan experience is demanding and it’s happening in other stadiums around the country.”
I posted Barta’s comment on Twitter and to say that it caused a reaction from fans would be an understatement.
Most of the responses were sarcastic or snarky, which seems to indicate that some fans feel that Barta was being disingenuous.
It’s easy to see why some fans would feel that way because Barta’s comment had political correctness written all over it.
Even if money was Iowa’s primary motivation to sell alcohol at Kinnick Stadium, Barta never would admit it publicly because it sends the wrong message.
“If the country continues to see schools add the sales of alcohol, we won’t be the first and probably won’t be the last to do it,” Barta said. “This isn’t breaking news. We don’t have plans to do it.”
In other words, Iowa has no plans to sell alcohol at Kinnick Stadium anytime soon, but that could or will change as peer pressure continues to build.
Beer, for now, is only available at Kinnick Stadium for those in luxury suites and indoor/outdoor club seating.
So it’s not that Kinnick Stadium is a dry zone, it’s just not wet enough to please some fans or to keep up with the growing list of schools that now sell beer at their stadiums in large scale.
The potential revenue from beer sales ultimately will convince UI officials to look past the concerns about projecting the wrong image. That prediction is based on nothing more than a hunch, and on the fact that more and more schools, including Minnesota, Ohio State, Maryland and Purdue, are now allowing beer to be sold throughout their stadiums.
In fact, Purdue made approximately $400,000 from alcohol sales during the 2017 seasons.
The University of Texas has an agreement with Corona Extra to be the official sponsor of the Texas Longhorns.
"There really isn't anything more emblematic of the state of Texas than the storied history of the four-time football national champion Texas Longhorns," said John Alvarado, vice president of marketing for Corona Extra in a news release. "Corona is honored to be a part of the legendary Longhorns lore, and we're excited to raise our Coronas and Hook 'em Horns this season as part of a statewide platform."
Texas introduced alcohol sales during the 2015 season, racking up $1.8 million in revenue in year one, according to the Houston Chronicle. That number climbed 20 percent to $3.1 million in 2016, with the season-opener against Notre Dame accounting for $701,234 in sales alone, according to the Austin American-Statesmen.
There is a perception that all hell would break loose if beer is sold at Kinnick Stadium because the irresponsible drinkers wouldn’t be able to control themselves with more access to it.
But that’s just silly, and a slap in the face to Iowa fans, most of whom drink responsibly on game day.
If a person with a ticket is determined to get drunk as part of the game-day experience, he or she will get drunk whether beer is sold inside Kinnick Stadium or not.
It would be easier to justify not selling alcohol at Kinnick Stadium if it were prohibited in the adjacent areas and lots on game day.
But that hardly is the case.
Alcohol is as much a part of the tailgating experience in Iowa City as barbeque and conversation, and has been for quite some time.
Iowa is doing what it can to enhance the game-day experience at Kinnick Stadium, the latest improvement being the $90 million renovation of the north end zone.
The project will replace the existing cramped, general-admission seats in the North End Zone with upper and lower general admission seating areas, two general admission concourses and a premium club level.
There is more temptation to watch the Iowa games from home because the home viewing experience has improved dramatically thanks to technology, and because every game is now televised.
You can make quite a case for watching an Iowa football game on your flat screen television at home, and with your choice of food and drink just a few feet away.
A person gets all the comforts of home, while also avoiding the annoying television timeouts that suck the life out of the fans at Kinnick Stadium.
Making alcohol, or more specifically beer, available to all fans of legal drinking age would help to convince more of them to leave the comfort of home. I say that based on feedback from fans.
UI officials are concerned about feeding Iowa’s reputation as a party school and they believe that selling alcohol at Kinnick Stadium would further damage that reputation.
Iowa has a history of ranking among the top party schools nationally, including being ranked the No. 1 party school in 2013 by Princeton Review. Some fans probably find humor in that image, but UI officials certainly don’t think it’s funny. To them, it’s embarrassing, disturbing and shameful.
But on the other hand, business is business and the cost of running a major college athletic program continues to rise.
When, or if, the decision finally is made to sell beer at Kinnick Stadium, it seems unlikely that the UI would try to promote it due to concerns about image.
This debate ultimately will come down to whether the benefits from selling alcohol outweigh the concerns and risks.
Iowa apparently doesn't feel it's worth the risk of selling alcohol at this stage.
But don't be surprised if Barta and his cohorts soften their stand as more schools start selling alcohol.
There are ways to sell alcohol, while also trying to be concerned about image.
Make the prices for beer expensive enough so the cost would serve as a deterrent for over consumption, or you could limit how many beers can be purchased by a single ticket holder.
I believe Barta when he says there currently are no plans to start selling alcohol at Kinnick Stadium.
But given enough time, and with more and more schools now selling alcohol, the desire for Iowa to make money will prevail over concerns about image.