NCAA To Vote On Beer, Wine

Approval would mean sales in public spaces at some championship events

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: May 2, 2018

April's NCAA Men's Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., was one site of test sales for beer and wine at an NCAA championship. (Getty Images)

NCAA officials will vote this summer on whether to approve beer and wine sales in public spaces for the 2019 Final Four men’s basketball tournament.

L.J. Wright, director of the Division I men’s basketball championship, confirmed the timetable for VenuesNow, although the exact date of the vote is unclear. The vote on the measure extends to committees overseeing 23 sports across the NCAA’s three divisions. All told, the NCAA oversees 90 championship events. Not all events would be affected by the move, Wright said.

“If it passes, we’ll be working with each of the host venues to determine whether they’ll be able to do it,” he said. “It all depends on their capacity to serve alcohol. Some serve it on a regular basis and some do not. A lot depends on if the venue already sells alcohol.”

The vote comes after the NCAA Board of Governors last fall eliminated the association’s longtime policy prohibiting alcohol sales at NCAA postseason events. The serving of alcohol had been restricted to premium areas at those events.

That’s all changing at a gradual pace, starting with some recent events. As part of the transition, the NCAA tested public beer and wine sales for this year’s Men’s Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., and its Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. 

The NCAA first tested alcohol sales for the 2016 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., and the 2016 Women’s College World Series at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

TD Ameritrade Park grossed $1 million in public beer and wine sales for each of past two College World Series, according to Roger Dixon, the facility’s president and CEO, and will be selling again this year.

In Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium, host of the 2019 Final Four, is prepared to make the adjustment, said Patrick Talty, SMG’s general manager of the facility. In addition to Final Four, the stadium is the site of the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championships.

“The NCAA is strongly considering selling beer in public areas for 2019,” Talty said. “They’re asking us to prepare for that and what it would look like in our building. We sent people to the wrestling championships this year to see how it went there. We’re planning around what’s traditionally been done here [for Minnesota Vikings games]. We all go through [alcohol awareness] training with Aramark and the ushers as well.”

The change in policy begs the question of how the income tied to alcohol sales would be distributed anong the NCAA, the venue and the facility’s concessionaire. For Final Four, Talty expects there to be a revenue-share agreement with the NCAA, but he had no further details.

In St. Paul, the sale of beer and wine went smoothly with no issues at the Frozen Four, said Jack Larson, Xcel Energy Center’s vice president and general manager.

Larson said he could not comment on the financial arrangement among the building, the NCAA and Levy, the arena’s food provider.

“The per caps were obviously better than the other years that we hosted the Frozen Four,” when alcohol was not served on the public concourses, he said. “We didn’t advertise it, but the fans were pleased after they saw it was available at concession stands.”

The revenue aspect is not the primary reason why the NCAA is headed toward making the switch, Wright said. Member schools have requested it, he said.

“The fans’ expectation is a big part of it,” Wright said. “It’s being served at sports facilities on our campuses and there are those that will tell you there are fewer alcohol-related issues when it’s under the school’s control. They don’t have the binge drinking that’s always a concern. That’s been part of the discussions.”

TD Ameritrade Park’s Dixon said: “We saw a decrease in alcohol-related incidents when we started selling beer to the general public. It cuts down on ‘power drinking’ before people get into the building.”

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: May 2, 2018