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Legal Issues Surrounding Alcohol Sales in College Football Stadiums

Chase Black

Kennesaw State University

Nov 10, 2017

Legal Issues Surrounding Alcohol Sales in College Football Stadiums

Alcohol consumption while watching sporting events has been a tradition that has been passed on throughout generations of fans. College sports fans are no exception to this observation. While alcohol has been widely available to fans at professional sporting events, and even in some luxury seating areas of college stadiums, college athletic programs have been hesitant to visit the issue of whether or not to offer alcoholic beverages in general seating areas of college stadiums. The often-stated reason for limiting the availability of alcohol in college stadiums is the concern of underage drinking and binge drinking (McCregor). This is especially true since a majority of the university's student population is under the legal drinking age. Tailgating traditions vary between universities and can exhibit different “drinking environments” on game day. Each community, region, and/or state possesses a “drinking culture” that corresponds with alcohol consumption patterns among fans (Mitchell). Although this culture is known for its conviviality, the consumption of alcoholic beverages during college football games has become synonymous with the “college game-day” experience (Arul). Aside from the issue of serving alcohol itself, universities worry that the tort liability for serving alcohol inside of on-campus stadiums, will supersede the potential revenue streams that alcohol sales can offer.

Tort liability is determined in most states by determining the duty of the party in question and a state's Dram Shop Statutes. People attending college football games are designated as “invitees” and are owed the standard duty of care of being provided a safe environment free from foreseeable risks (Miller). Dram shop statutes determine the liability of the server who serves alcohol who then, after being intoxicated, injures themselves or a third person. Intoxicated fans have been the source of numerous documented tort claims against vendors and facility owners (Filce). These statutes and common law in a university's governing state are a determining factor for a school's decision to serve alcohol. Almost all states have some sort of dram shop law in effect, and in those that do not, the state's courts determine the tort liability of servers by using negligence principles and other alcohol-related statutory regulations.

Dram shop statutes are not the only regulatory factors that athletic departments must consider before deciding whether or not to permit the sale of alcohol. All D1 university athletic programs must abide by the rules of their member association, the NCAA. The NCAA currently maintains rules and regulations governing alcohol sales and advertising at its national events (McCregor). The NCAA, until recently, prohibited the sale and advertisement of alcohol at all championship events but left decisions regarding the regular season, up to the individual conference or schools.

The NCAA has recently relaxed its long-standing prohibition of sales of alcoholic beverages at its Division I championship events in 2013, when it permitted beer and wine sales at the College World Series, for both men and women events, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska (Privovar). According to an article on the NCAA's website, the decision to implement the 1 year pilot program that allows beer and wine sales in the general seating areas of Ameritrade Park came after data collected showed that alcohol related incidents declined sharply at venues that allowed the sale of alcohol in the stadium (Hosick).

As of 2015, 34 FBS schools allow the sale of alcohol in general seating areas. This number is up from 6 institutions prior to 2008. Due to economic concerns and low attendance over the past few years, many athletic department are looking to alcohol sales to access new revenue streams and to boost attendance. The amount of money that hangs in the balance regarding the decision to sell alcohol at a school's stadium is no trivial amount (McCregor). West Virginia reported $500,000 in additional revenue by allowing alcohol sales in Milan-Puskar Stadium (Mitchell). West Virginia's decision to allow alcohol sales in Milan-Puskar Stadium came as a result of the potential revenue and a way to combat against the issue of the binge drinking behaviors of its fans. West Virginia, until recently, allowed for fans to exit the stadium during half time, return to tailgate areas where alcohol is readily available, and re-enter the stadium at a later time. Binge drinking behaviors in tailgate areas became an issue that the university could no longer ignore. By allowing the sale of alcohol in the stadium, West Virginia gained some control over the amount of alcohol that an individual could be served. By passing this measure, the West Virginia athletic department abolished the policy of allowing patrons to leave and re-enter the stadium, alleviating some of the binge drinking behavior.

As previously stated, most universities are concerned with tort liability and the risks of underage and/or binge drinking among fans and students. Alcohol consumption in a collegiate atmosphere, prompts many to question the ethical responsibility that the university holds over its fans (Huang). Not only do universities face the possible liability as a result of accidents due to over intoxication or drunk driving, they also face problems with negative image associated with not acting in a socially responsible manner.

Several cases can be examined by athletic departments to observe the potential tort liability that can arise from alcohol sales inside of stadiums. These cases are not specific to just college stadiums. Both professional and college athletic departments have the same responsibility to keep their patrons entertained in a safe environment.

The first case, Bearman v. University of Notre Dame, involves an injury that occurred due to the actions of an intoxicated fan. Bearman and her husband sued the University of Notre Dame for damages after an intoxicated fan fell into the back of Mrs. Bearman's leg, resulting in injuries from her fall. The Bearman's argued that it was the university's duty to protect her from injuries from other fans. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Bearman, stating that the university had prior knowledge that alcohol was consumed during University of Notre Dame football games, which in turn leaves the university responsible for the actions of its patrons. The court argued that even if a university is not directly responsible for the sale of alcohol at its venue, it is still responsible for the actions, or in this case, injures caused by intoxicated fans especially if the university knows about the drinking culture and does not have proper precautionary protocol in place.  

The second case, Verni ex rel. Burstein v. Harry M. Stevens, Inc., involves an incident that occurred after a New York Giants football game. An intoxicated fan was involved in a car accident with the Vernis, injuring both Mr. Verni and his two children. The intoxicated fan, Mr. Lanzaro, allegedly consumed several beers at the game that afternoon, and was continued to be served in what many would call an “intoxicated state”. The court considered New Jersey's dram shop statute before deciding to remand the case back to the state trial court. The case never went to trail again, resulting in HMS and Aramark Services to settle the case for $25 million dollars (McGregor).

The third case, Betina Pierson v. Centerplate, again involves an issue of over serving an already intoxicated individual. In this case, Tierra Rae Pierson, a minor, lost her life due to the actions of a drunk driver after a game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The plaintiffs argued that Centerplate “negligently failed to train, instruct, monitor, and restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages to visibly intoxicated patrons.” The appellate court rejected Centerplate's claims that no liability can held against them because no particular server to Gaff, the individual involved in the accident, was identified.

As seen in the cases above, there are several factors that universities must take in to consideration before making a decision to allow alcohol inside their stadiums. A universities risk management plan must take in to consideration how an intoxicated fans actions can put others at risk. Since fans who go onto property owned by a university and pay to watch a football game or any other athletic event are business invitees, the university has a greater level of duty to protect patrons attending sports events form negligent behavior (Miller).  Foreseeability of these events is regarded as the most significant consideration in determining the extent to which a person is owed a standard duty of care (Miller). Universities allowing alcohol sales should take into consideration that accidents involving intoxicated fans can and will happen. Controlling, or monitoring, fan behavior and reducing the risk of accidents due to over consumption are shown to be the most important aspects to developing a risk management plan for university alcohol sales

An extensive review of available literature identifies four specific areas vital to an effective alcohol management policy. These areas include: policy and training, sales and marketing, tailgating, and detection and enforcement (Filce). Alcohol sales policies in stadiums must answer questions involving who to serve, when to serve, and how much to serve. The basic fundamentals of an effective alcohol policy must include: id checks, security personnel, limiting the size and number of beers available for purchase, as well as a cut off time for the serving of alcohol. Staff should be trained to identify “intoxicated persons” and apply those policies to their governing states dram shop statutes. At minimum, athletic departments should develop appropriate policies for alcohol management, and train staff on those specific policies. The threats of venue security and tort liability require a measured, systematic approach to alcohol management (Filce).

References

Arul , K. (2015). Drinking and Game Day: The Expansion and Solution to Alcohol Abuse in Collegiate Sporting Events. The Compass,1(2), 7th ser.

Filce, R., Hall, S. A., & Phillips, D. (2016). Stadium Alcohol Management: A Best Practices Approach. International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation & Tourism,21, 48-65. doi:10.5199/ijsmart-1791-874x-21c

Hosick, M. (2016, January 20). DI board approves waiver for alcohol sales at baseball, softball championships. Retrieved November 07, 2017, from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/di-board-approves-waiver-alcohol-sales-baseball-softball-championships

Huang, K., & Dixon, M. (2013). Examining the Financial Impact of Alcohol Sales on Football Game Days: A Case Study of a Major Football Program. Journal of Sport Management,(27), 207-216.

Lawrence, S. A., Hall, T., & Lancey, P. (2012). The Relationship Among Alcohol Consumption, Tailgating, and Negative Consequences. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse,21(3), 222-237. doi:10.1080/1067828x.2012.689805

Miller, J., & Gillentine, A. (2006). An Analysis of Risk Management Policies for Tailgating Activities at Selected NCAA Division I Football Games. Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport,16(2), 197-215. doi:10.1123/jlas.16.2.197

Mitchell, M., & Montgomery, R. D. (2015). Beer and Ball On Campus? The Issue of In-Stadium Alcohol Sales. The Sport Journal. doi:10.17682/sportjournal/2015.002

Pivovar, S. (2016, January 20). Beer, wine will be sold at the College World Series — for now. Retrieved November 07, 2017, from http://www.omaha.com/sports/cws/beer-wine-will-be-sold-at-the-college-world-series/article_1e3dc708-bfb5-11e5-945b-ff53ecc6de1b.html

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