UT sells $1.8 million worth of alcohol in first wet football season
Source: Houston Chronicle
By Benjamin Wermund
January 6, 2016
Throughout a disappointing football season, few Longhorns fans turned to the hard stuff to drown their sorrows.
Instead, fans watching in person eased the sting of a 5-7 record with light beer.
In the first year alcohol was allowed at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, light beer accounted for more than half of the $1.8 million in sales of adult beverages, according to records provided to the Houston Chronicle.
The school sold 62,275 Miller Lites – the top-selling beer at the stadium, worth $494,000 alone. Miller Lite was the second-most sold item at stadium concessions, behind only bottled water. Coors Light, the third-highest selling product, and Bud Light, the sixth-highest, brought in $433,290 and $182,828, respectively.
Alcohol accounted for more than half of the $3.7 million in food and drinks sold at the stadium.
Iconic Texas brews didn’t sell as well as national brands at UT football games, it turns out. UT sold just 2,671 Shiners and 1,725 Lone Stars from September through November. Sales of wine and hard liquor also were far lower than those of light beer.
Deciding to allow sales
While the Longhorns struggled on the field, winning just four of seven home games, expanded offerings at concessions stands, including the addition of booze, provided some new diversions at the stadium. The school also started serving food from popular Austin restaurants such as Torchy’s Tacos, Pluckers, Mighty Fine Burgers and Austin’s Pizza.
“The great news is the feedback from fans was excellent, and at the same time we saw an overall increase in food sales,” said Kevin Mortesen, a UT athletics spokesman.
Officials at the flagship sought for years to sell alcohol at football games, a move that was blocked by the university system in the past. UT Chancellor Bill McRaven, who was hired last year and had yet to weigh in on the issue, gave the OK in June.
Dozens of schools, including West Virginia and Kansas State, have started selling beer at games, in some cases citing binge drinking at pre-game tailgates as a reason. UT’s former president, Bill Powers, told the Austin American-Statesman in 2014 that was one of the reasons the school should consider the change: “People tailgate and they think they’ve got to polish off whatever they have sort of in a binge.”
The Austin flagship became the fourth UT System school – after campuses at El Paso, San Antonio and Arlington – to serve alcoholic beverages at sports events. Other institutions offering similar service are the University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University and the University of Houston.
On his first day on the job last year, UT Austin President Gregory Fenves said he wanted to sell alcohol at games. But it wasn’t about the money, officials have said. UT already provided football fans a world-class experience.
“I think being able to serve beer to them is part of that experience,” Fenves said at the time.
Texas beers sold well
While most fans chose light beer, which cost somewhat less than other options, some drank craft brews, including Lawnmower by Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing Co Combined, sales of the five Texas craft breweries on the list ranked fourth, outselling the likes of Blue Moon, Dos Equis and Michelob Ultra.
That craft beers sold well isn’t too surprising, since fans were already paying marked-up prices for the typically cheap stuff, said Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association.
“Beer lovers see a lot of value in paying $9 for a small or independent brewer versus $8 for a national lager,” Watson said. “It shows that when they have an opportunity, small and independent breweries can sell well, as well.”
Still, some of Austin’s most-loved local beer brands – including Live Oak, 512 and Austin Beer Works – were not flowing at the stadium. That’s likely a distribution issue, said Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. A brewery can only work with one distributor, and big venues like sporting arenas tend to have deals with a single distributor. All three of those Austin breweries self-distribute, he said.
Several other Austin-based beers, however, sold well at the stadium. Vallhonrat said he’d like to see the Longhorns tap even more local brews.
“You can’t get more region-specific and local than a college football game,” Vallhonrat said. “And so having the local products that people really love and support in that area would obviously be great.”