LITTLE ROCK — A teetotaling, technology-challenged person who does not pay for a seat at a football game, I may not be qualified to pontificate on the need for wine, beer, and more broadband capability in a stadium, but I understand the push.
Arkansas’ move to sell alcohol and the recent expansion of Wi-Fi capability form a double-barreled attempt to enhance the in-stadium experience to appease many of today’s fans who seek the social experience as much as the sports experience. To some, the former includes sipping a beer. To others, sharing an observation is important.
If the Alcohol Beverage Control approves a permit for private concessionaire Sodexo, Inc., beer and wine will be sold to those who purchase tickets for indoor club seating. That limitation dovetails with an SEC mandate in the league’s game management policy that says prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages "shall not apply to private, leased areas in the facility or other areas designated by the SEC."
By the way, the policy also prohibits "advertising displays mentioning or promoting" alcoholic beverages in the stadium.
More than a half-dozen other SEC schools follow that policy and some even sell hard liquor, an avenue that Arkansas did not pursue. Although a person can get just as drunk on beer or wine, it takes more effort than someone knocking back a couple of straight shots of booze.
At Arkansas, there are slightly more than 9,000 club seats and the school promises a close watch for folks who consume too much. Folks in private suites are allowed to bring in their own alcohol.
Alcohol sales will not be a direct windfall for the UA athletic department. To reach that point would require selling to all fans. West Virginia sold beer at its concession stands at seven home games in 2011 and netted $700,000. The first year Minnesota sold wine and beer, it lost money.
If there is an increase in revenue at Arkansas, it will be because people buy more club seats to be part of the experience. In turn, if the sale of beer and wine is an attraction and the demand increases for club seats, the UA could increase the price of such seats.
Around the SEC, improving the in-stadium experience has been a point of emphasis, particularly in light of slight declines in attendance from a peak in 2008. In 2013, paid attendance per game was up a tick from 2012. At Arkansas and a handful of other schools, attendance declined.
Last May, Mark Womack, SEC executive associate commissioner, addressed the move to persuade fans that being at the game is worth the effort and the cost, noting that the technology of television — the 60-inch, HD TV — plus the plethora of games available makes staying at home an appealing option.
Not only that, said Burke Magnus, who oversees college sports programming for ESPN, but "there is the mobility of live streaming on phones and tablets and the ability to keep in touch."
The grandfather of two girls in middle school, I am aware of the hand-held devices that are attached at the palm. I do not text my lunch plans nor do I take selfies, but I have heard horror stories about people sitting in the same den, non-verbally communicating opinions on play-calling and other developments while watching the same game. Apparently, their mouths open only to consume nourishment.
During the recent football season, AT&T completed expansion of its mobile Internet coverage at Razorback Stadium. In the third Fayetteville game of the year, AT&T customers made more than 84,000 mobile calls and sent more than 148,000 text messages.
Back when I paid $10 to a concession employee for his pass and stood on the War Memorial Stadium steps to watch the Razorbacks in the late 1950s, the game was enough. Times have changed.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.