A Saturday Rant: The NFL’s Uneasy Relationship with Alcohol
I’m really not setting out to be a buzz-killer here. I’m not opposed to those of legal age partaking of alcoholic beverages. And I definitely understand the desire to have your cake and eat it too. But like most such gastronomic exercises, the NFL is treading precariously in their attempt to walk this particular line.
Who is the largest sponsor of the NFL? According to a fall 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal, that would be Verizon, followed by PepsiCo. But Anheuser Busch is a solid No. 3, and they have been the largest Super Bowl sponsor for the past five years or so. Drinking seems to be part and parcel of the stadium experience for perhaps even most attendees, and the stadiums like it that way. Alcohol is a high-margin item, after all. Stadiums don’t run their own concessions, but the team certainly gets a cut of them. Just how much doesn’t seem to be particularly easy to find out. But this article in the Indianapolis Star Journal broke down the revenue the Colts received by type during the 2013 season, and as I suspected alcohol blew everything else away:
- Beer revenues: $2,035,800.00
- Liquor revenues: $280,737.00
- Wine revenues: $16,114.00
Here is the comparison to everything else:
- Total alcohol revenues: $2,332651.00
- Total soft drinks/coffee: $732,536.00
- Total food revenue: $757,374.00
In other words, alcohol netted almost one million dollars more than all other concessions put together. It may not sound like that much, but it was over the course of only nine games (including the Wild Card game.) It doesn’t include the even more valuable alcohol-related sponsorship agreements the Colts presumably have, nor the value of the league-wide sponsorship revenue, which was something on the order of $100,000,000.00 that year, just from Anheuser Busch.
Nobody wants to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. But DUIs for NFL players, not to mention other crimes generally exacerbated by alcohol usage, such as domestic violence, give the league a black eye and reduce the effectiveness and even the availability of players to their teams.
After the Ray Rice domestic violence incident the New York Times published a piece, What the Numbers Show About NFL Arrests. So what do the numbers show? DUI arrests are overwhelmingly the most common. But the vast majority of the additional types of arrests carry a high probability of alcohol or drug-impaired behavior, including assault and battery, domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and sexual assault.
And of course nobody wants their fans to look like total jerks. (At least I assume nobody does, or I hope not.) But there is no doubt that excessive alcohol consumption fuels fan violence, and probably just run-of-the-mill fan douchebaggery as well. Here’s a vivid demonstration of what can happen when you throw too much alcohol into the mix. An article in the Athletic Business magazine detailed the following incident:
It is rivaled only by 1979’s Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago as the most disastrous promotion in Major League Baseball history. On June 4, 1974, the moribund Cleveland Indians hosted “10-Cent Beer Night” at Municipal Stadium, drawing 25,134 fans (or triple the team’s per-game average of the previous season) to an otherwise meaningless game against the Texas Rangers. The lone restriction: Each fan was limited to six beers per visit to the concessions stand.
Whether streaking across the field or launching fireworks and other projectiles onto it, legions of emboldened fans disrupted play throughout the evening – between innings, between outs and eventually between pitches. In the bottom of the ninth, as the Indians rallied to tie the score, a fan rushed Rangers right fielder Jeff Burroughs, and a full-fledged riot ensued. An estimated 10,000 fans participated in the beer-soaked and blood-stained mayhem, which forced the home team to forfeit the game. Indians officials scratched future discount beer dates off the promotional schedule, but only after American League president Lee MacPhail intervened. “There was no question that beer played a great part in the affair,” an understated MacPhail said at the time.
This was quite some time ago, obviously, and there are much stricter laws about the concessionaire’s responsibility not to sell to obviously inebriated patrons. But it’s awfully easy for patrons to get around this, to the detriment of the stadium experience for many of the other patrons.
And actually, last January wasn’t all that long ago, and I recall “projectiles” such as full beer cans being thrown by Bengals fans, including one which hit Ben Roethlisberger on the foot as he was being taken off the field on the Injury Cart of Doom. I would be willing to bet the fans engaging in that behavior were fueled by more than just partisan fury.
As it is, high-definition television has reduced the appeal to many fans of live attendance, especially in combination with the cost to do so. A few years ago the average cost of attending an NFL game, including the ticket and a modest number of concession items, was over $450. I’m sure it has only gotten worse. But the risk of being berated, having beer spilled on one, or even less pleasant things things occurring, reduces the appeal even more. And that’s if you’re attending a game at your team’s home stadium. Heaven help you if root for the visiting team.
Like so many facets of the NFL’s doings, there is a vast helping of hypocrisy in their stance towards alcohol. I’m not looking to ruin anyone’s fun, and I honestly don’t know what the answer is, but I do think the time has come to look for some. The NFL needs to consider the big picture, not just the bottom line.