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MSU students and administrators alike have voiced concern about the sparse student attendance at Spartan football games this past season. Men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo said, “You can tell me about the ticket prices. You can tell me all that. Baloney, because the tickets are sold. It’s not about the ticket prices. It’s about the passion and the enthusiasm.”
There does seem to be a problem and I might have a solution.
The idea comes from the University of Minnesota. The “legislature” at Minnesota voted to make a change on Saturday afternoons and permit the sale of alcohol at Gopher games.
What do you think? Can alcohol be a game changer?
Before we look at the money, let’s consider the obvious downsides.
Do we really need more drunks? The police already have their hands full. The idea of thousands of students with access to alcohol is frightening. Intoxicated fights and even riots come to mind.
Do you need a beer spilled down your back on a brisk (but sunny) November afternoon? Sounds horrific to me.
And what about underage drinking? The danger and the liability is a real issue to the university and needs to be taken seriously. It probably is quite easy to pass along a beer to an underage buddy in a mass of screaming and hollering on third and short.
But what if I told you the experience at dozens of other universities that serve alcohol to the public is quite the opposite?
The authors of the popular book “Freakonomics,” a book that evaluates the effects of various incentives on human behavior, recently took a look at whether selling alcohol at football games could cut down on outrageous drunken behavior. The conclusion was yes.
They used data from the West Virginia University, or WVU, which permitted the sale of alcohol starting in 2011. The results were surprising. WVU saw a 6 percent decrease in calls to the police, a 35 percent decrease in arrests and, finally, a 23 percent decrease in legal charges.
Bob Roberts, chief of the WVU Police was surprised to see arrest numbers decreased following the new alcohol policy.
“You know, you might as well face reality and try to control it and, at least, keep the environment as safe as you can,” he told “Freakonomics.”
Oliver Luck, the athletic director at WVU, explained a little of the logic behind the initial decision.
“I think we close our eyes a little bit to a tailgate culture that is out there. And what we’ve said is, ‘We’re going to encourage that tailgate culture, but that stops at the door.’ And I think that’s a little bit… odd,” Luck said in an interview with “Freakonomics.”
Minnesota saw similar results after opening up alcohol sales to fans. University police Lieutenant Erik Swanson said the sale of alcohol did not result in any major complications.
“In previous years, fans knew they couldn’t drink inside the stadium, so they arrived at games already drunk. This year, fans knew they could drink at the stadium and thus arrived in a better state,” Swanson said.
Police-related incidents at Gopher games dropped by 43 percent.
It is possible that high prices might have something to do with the puzzling lack of over-consumption. A beer at TCF Bank Stadium, where Minnesota plays football, runs a steep $7.25. This might be a little too steep for students living on a student salary to overdo it.
What about the additional costs to the university? Do the costs associated with adding beer tents, extra police, extra medical, property damage etc., outweigh the benefits?
Let’s ask the athletic department at Minnesota. They pulled in a cool $907,000 in alcohol related revenues this season. That is an average revenue increase of $129,610 per home game! And let me mention that the average attendance at a Minnesota football game is roughly 50,000 people or about 20,000 people less than a Spartan game.
All of this sounds almost too good to be true. Is it really possible that one could set loose a mind altering substance on a crowd of rowdy fans and see an increase in revenue and a decrease in police-related incidents? Even I have a hard time believing this.
However, keep in mind that correlation does not mean causation. It is possible there could be some additional factors, yet unidentified, contributing to these results. Nonetheless, the sale of alcohol does not seem to unleash any severe negative externality.
So, the benefit of an additional $1 million to the university plus the benefit of enjoying a beer seems to outweigh the cost of an occasional beer down the back. And it might just put some people back in the seats.
Alex Brooks is a guest columnist at The State News and an economics senior. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.