Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beer at University of Memphis Football Games? It Could Happen

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 4:00 AM

In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, the City Council on Tuesday took up the issue of selling beer at University of Memphis football games.

There was a lot of talk but no action, but there are financial pressures that may open up the taps for the dwindling number of UM football fans at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Cindy Buchanan, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, told council members that the university is somehow going to have to make up a financial shortfall that has been made more acute by crowds as small as 7,000 fans. The operating cost per game at the stadium is $45,000-$50,000, she said, and UM pays about $35,000 in rent.

"They need to be able to pay for the cost of their games," she said.

The city estimates that beer sales would bring in another $150,000 a year, while stadium management firm SMG pegs the increase at $250,000 or more.

Council members Shea Flinn and Bill Morrison voiced support for suds, while councilman Bill Boyd opposed the idea. Boyd said he has been attending college football games since 1954 and believes that beer sales make for a rowdier and less family-friendly crowd.

Beer is currently sold at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl game and the Southern Heritage Classic. Buchanan said some Conference USA teams, including Tulane, also sell beer at football games.

She added that the shortfall was lower in previous years, when Memphis was winning more games and drawing bigger crowds and generating more concession-stand revenue. The university reports attendance based on tickets sold and comes up with an "average attendance" of 25,003, but actual attendance is sometimes 7,000 to 9,000, while operating costs stay the same.

On another subject, Buchanan said the city is ready to move ahead with the construction of 70 companion seats for wheelchair seats in the stadium. The cost would be $200,000, because there is room behind the existing wheelchair seating on Row 25.

By strict Americans With Disabilities Act standards, a wheelchair seat must include a companion seat. Therefore the Liberty Bowl, Buchanan said, currently has no seats that comply with ADA standards. The new seats should be ready by fall, and, if past trends hold, should be more than adequate to meet demand. University officials have said that the most wheelchair seats used at a game since 2006 was 50, and the average, excluding games involving Southeastern Conference teams, was more like eight.

--John Branston

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