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Kristen Morse / Gavel Media

Is Booze the Way to Boost Alumni Attendance?

The Boston Globe announced Monday that BC Athletics, under the direction of new AD Martin Jarmond, is considering selling beer and wine to general admission fans at Alumni Stadium. Expanding service of alcoholic beverages beyond boxes and suites is the latest installment in Jarmond’s plan to revitalize attendance at Boston College football games.

This move comes in response to steadily shrinking crowds at Alumni, both in the student section and at large. The 22,728-person turnout at last year’s home opener against Wagner suffered from record-low numbers, barely filling half of the 44,500-seat stadiumthe lowest for any opening game since the 1994 expansion was completed.

Over the course of the 2016 football season, Boston College garnered an average per-game attendance of 32,157, just under three-fourths of Alumni Stadium’s capacity. This number, up a whopping six percent from the 2015 season’s average attendance, is likely inflated by the well-attended Friday night Clemson game which was also televised on ESPN. In reality, at any given home game for the Eagles, it’s not uncommon to see more bleachers than fans and a student section that all but empties out at half-time.

However, just outside the walls of Alumni, there is a bustling throng of people that lines Campanella Way, litters Shea Field, and fills the Brighton Campus across the streettailgaters. The proposition to sell alcohol inside the stadium gates aims to lure SuperFans inside and build a larger, more lively crowd.

The move isn’t uniquely Jarmond’s; as of June 2016, over 40 Football Bowl Subdivision schools have opted to allow stadium vendors to sell wine and beer. Among these are fellow ACC members Syracuse, Louisville, and Pitt, and in-state rival UMass. The marriage between college sports and booze (whether at tailgates, sports bars, or at home on the couch) is a long and loving one, but only in the last decade have schools themselves began officially authorizing the sale of alcohol at games.

Although selling alcohol in college football stadiums is still in its early years, schools who have made the switch, including football powerhouse Ohio State, have indicated that they have seen attendance rise and noticed that fans tended to stay longer with a drink in hand.

At the forefront of the opposition to this move are those concerned with the usual dangers of underage drinking, arguing that a vast majority of the student section at games is under the legal drinking age. But in reality, bringing alcohol to stadiums does little to increase its overall availability on game dayin fact, it may actually help foster a healthier drinking environment, as the ability to purchase wine or beer at the game may discourage fans from going a little too hard at the tailgate.

With an expensive liquor license on the line, vendors tend to err on the side of caution when asking for identification during alcohol sales, greatly diminishing the risk of underage drinking at games and shifting the liability away from the university.

Ohio State, which saw an average of 12 fans ejected per game in their 2015 season, only removed two belligerent attendees in its 2016 home opener after adding beer and wine to the menu at the Shoe. West Virginia University also reported a drop in security incidents during home games after introducing beer in conjunction, with added safety measures like banning fans from reentering the stadium if they leave during the game.

Following the allowance of alcohol sales at the College World Series in 2016, only one unruly fan was ejected from a game throughout the entire tournament. Thanks to color-coded wristbands and an ID check at the door, the CWS recorded no sales to underage drinkers and even a slight boost in revenue.

While the revenue from these sales is unlikely to be significant by itself, especially with the added cost of an expanded license allowing BC to sell beer and wine to thousands more maroon-and-gold-clad fans, the hope is that it will drive up ticket sales from the general public and encourage those already inside the stadium to spend more money on concessions.

In keeping with BC Athletic’s recent “Boston’s College” campaign, which is intended to encourage local alumni and the average Bostonian to hop on the T to catch a BC game, Jarmond clearly hopes that selling alcohol at Alumni might be the incentive casual BC fans need to leave their sports bars or family rooms and head to the game in person.

Before the bottles start popping and the taps start flowing at Alumni Stadium, Martin Jarmond and the Athletics department have a mountain of applications, fees, and opinions from all sides of the issue to contend with. But perhaps by the time opening day rolls around, he may be able to join 30,000 of his closest friends in watching the Eagles play, beer in hand.

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