OU football: Expanding beer sales all about luring, keeping new fans
Before voting to expand the sale of alcoholic beverages to all sporting events, the Oklahoma Board of Regents had a question for school president Jim Gallogly.
What’s the projected revenue?
Gallogly had already told them limited sales of beer and wine over the past few months had been a success. No additional problems with fan behavior. No bad incidents because more people had more access to alcohol.
So, about that bottom line.
Gallogly had an interesting answer Friday morning: selling alcohol isn’t so much about financial gains as it is about fan experience.
That's true — sort of.
On the day Oklahoma joined Oklahoma State and dozens of other college football programs already selling beer during games, both Gallogly and Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione talked about how small a drop in the bucket beer revenues have been since the school started a pilot program last year. Seven months of sales at basketball, baseball and softball games. Only about $80,000 in revenue.
No doubt that number will rise when 86,000 football fans have a chance to drink a cold one this fall.
- Related to this story
- Article: OU Regents approve sale of alcohol at sporting events
- Video: Castiglione comments on sale of alcohol at OU sporting events
And yet, even if revenue quadruples, $320,000 isn’t a game-changer. With budgets well north of $100 million, a few hundred thousand bucks isn’t making or breaking you.
But here's something that could make or break college athletics — hooking the next generation of fans.
There’s evidence that is becoming a real issue. Statistics released by the NCAA earlier this year show college football is struggling to get fans through turnstiles and butts in seats. People are interested in it — stellar TV ratings tell us as much — but overall attendance is steadily declining.
An average of 41,856 fans attended games involving FBS teams last season, the lowest average since 1996. Worse, it was the seventh drop in eight years.
It isn’t a case of mid-major or low-level teams dragging down the numbers, either. Clemson, the eventual national champ, averaged 373 less fans a game. The SEC, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 all saw declines, too.
It doesn’t take an analytical genius to realize college students and young adults are a big part of the equation. Look at any student section at any college football stadium during pretty much any game. Empty seats are numerous and noticeable.
Emily Golembiewski, a stadium consultant, did a study on why college students weren’t attending football games. She discovered, as she told the New York Times, that “they wanted it to be more social, more customizable, more welcoming.” Make it feel more like a music festival or an art walk, and they would be more willing to come.
Being able to get a beer might help lure them.
“And it’s not the drinking crowd,” Golembiewski told the Times, “it’s actually a more social crowd.”
Beer isn’t a magic elixir, but selling it is a signal to young folks. This isn’t just a football game. This is an event. A party. It’s an experience you can’t get at home.
Maybe that helps convince them to buy tickets. A good experience or two hooks them, then one day they become season-ticket holders and annual donors.
That's what schools like OU hope anyway.
Even though alcohol sales aren't a significant money-maker now — Gallogly was right about that — they're part of a broader push to lure fans, especially 20somethings, then keep them coming back. And that is absolutely about financial gain.
The projected revenue now is nice, but the potential revenue later is vital.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.