WEST LAFAYETTE – If Purdue has a repeat of 2013, at least the fans can drown their sorrows at Ross-Ade Stadium this season. That’s because Purdue has joined a growing number of schools in selling alcohol at college football games, a move the university hopes will raise revenue and boost attendance.
But the decision wasn’t made with those sole factors in mind. It stems from the removal of the south end zone bleachers – some 6,100 seats – and a desire to creatively transform an open space that otherwise would have been an eyesore.
Thus, the South End Zone Patio was born.
This is not meant to be a moneymaker this fall, Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. It’s not a beer garden.
For $5, season ticket holders and students who buy a $250 VIP card can buy 16-ounce beers and 5-ounce glasses of wine. It must be consumed in the 16,000-square-foot patio, which can be accessed from Gates A and N and sections 101 and 129.
Alcohol sales in Ross-Ade Stadium were previously limited to premium seat holders.
Now, the common man can imbibe. Don’t plan on sales matriculating to the horseshoe, though. The footprint of the stadium and proximity are too small, according to Burke, who envisions the patio as a two- or three-year stopover until a larger, permanent structure is completed, including construction of a videoboard in the south end zone.
Plans for the next phase will take form after the New Year, Burke said. The removal of the bleachers drops Ross-Ade’s capacity from 62,500 to 57,236. A new deck on the east side is viewed as the best alternative.
Purdue becomes one of more than two dozen colleges that sell alcohol outside suites and club areas. Indiana does not sell alcohol at Memorial Stadium or Assembly Hall. Ball State only sells beer at football games, available in suites and club seats.
We don’t have any active plans (to sell alcohol) and haven’t given it any serious consideration at this point, Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said.
There are no NCAA rules regarding alcohol sales, but the association does not partake in the practice at any championships, even the men’s basketball tournament. Decisions are left to the schools.
The SEC is the only conference that has a no-alcohol policy. It’s a subject where morals, religion and safety all collide.
Some people think it’s more safe to serve alcohol at games because people don’t try to pound so hard, Glass said. They have a buzz that lasts the whole game. Others say, no, don’t mix it.
I think there are two points to view. The evidence seems to be the arrests and incidents go down when you bring it out and let people responsibly drink. I don’t see it as a moral issue, but more of a public safety issue.
Fans may notice beefed-up security in the patio.
We’ll be careful early on, Burke said. The last thing we want is a poorly managed section. But are we going to have people in riot gear down there? No.
We’re going to treat adults like adults. I don’t anticipate any trouble. Drinking responsibly on a college campus is a challenge, which is all the more reason to do it right.
When Burke and his colleagues scan the crowd on Saturdays, 25-30-year-olds are dwindling, as is student attendance. Beer sales could help lure them back to Ross-Ade Stadium.
The whole genesis of the patio is not to serve alcohol, associate athletic director Tom Schott said. The intent isn’t to hang out there the entire game. We have no idea what the interest is going to be. We think people will be intrigued by it.
The patio, which opens 90 minutes prior to kickoff, will have a capacity of 1,500 and include six 46-inch TVs, pergolas, tables, chairs and umbrellas. There will also be an area for merchandise sales, with a 3,200-square foot tent representing the centerpiece, giving the space a casual feel.
Alcohol sales have soared in the Mid-American Conference, where football stadiums mimic mom-and-pop stores. Bowling Green, Indiana’s Week 3 destination, makes upward of $25,000 each season from beer sales at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Minnesota of the Big Ten and West Virginia of the Big 12 have netted hundreds of thousands of dollars selling beer.
Purdue’s availability is smaller, but there’s a blueprint for success.
There was excitement a year ago with the hiring of Darrell Hazell as Purdue’s average attendance rose by 5,000, from 43,000 to 48,000.
But after the program’s worst season since the beginning of the Clinton administration, fans spoke with their wallets.
The season ticket base is around 20,000 after an 85 percent renewal rate, down from previous years.
We have a problem, and we know that. When you come off a 1-11 season, you’re not a hot ticket, Burke said.
A glass full of suds could be a cure-all.