Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the omnibus liquor bill on May 20 , which in part mandates that alcohol be available to all legal-age buyers in the TCF Bank Stadium — not just those in premium seats, as previously planned.
But don’t make plans yet to stand in line for a brew on opening day.
University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininiks told the Board of Regents on May 8 that “it is not a recommendation you can expect to hear from me.”
Bruininks has opposed selling alcohol to the bowl of the stadium, which includes around 20 percent students .
“Over the years, we have avoided selling or even advertising alcohol in areas with significant student presence,” Bruininks said at the Board of Regents meeting. “I just didn’t feel that was in keeping with the values of the University of Minnesota.”
University Athletic Director Joel Maturi said the University’s alcohol sales plan is not solidified yet.
“We’re looking at options that would best serve the people attending the games,” he said.
In the University’s original plans for the stadium, alcohol would have been sold to ticket holders in premium seating areas: suites, indoor and outdoor club seats and loge boxes.
Selling alcohol in premium seating areas is common in other Big Ten schools and nationwide, Maturi said. No other Big Ten school sells alcohol in general seating areas.
Maturi said the majority of premium seats have already been sold for the season — most before the signing of the omnibus liquor bill changed the promise of alcohol sales.
“We’ve sold the premium seats under the guise that we’d sell alcohol to them,” Maturi said. “The question is whether those seats are as valuable as we sold them as.”
This issue led to talk that the University might serve — but not sell — alcohol to those in premium seats. This is currently done at Mariucci and Williams Arenas, which will also be affected by the bill.
But because of the egalitarian goals of the bill, liquor would have to be given away to everyone in the 50,000 seat stadium , which is not likely to happen, Maturi said.
Rep. Tom Rukavina , DFL-Virginia, wrote the preliminary legislation that became the omnibus liquor bill.
“There was an overwhelming feeling in the Legislature that what the Board of Regents did was elitist,” Rukavina said. “If you can afford to sit in the premium seats, you can drink chardonnay, and if you sit in the cheap seats, you get water or pop … We didn’t think that was right.”
The Legislature doesn’t plan to counter whatever the University decides, Rukavina said, adding that “there are more important things to worry about.”
University spokesman Dan Wolter said University administration was surprised by the bill, “particularly considering the timing of it, with the [Dinkytown riots] around the same time.”
Sociology senior Paul Buchanan said he doesn’t think Bruininks’ plan will affect underage alcohol consumption.
“I think students will find a way to drink anyway,” he said.
Others predict that, in the wake of massive budget cuts, the University won’t be able to resist the potential income of alcohol sales at the stadium.
“If they want to make money, they’ll end up doing it,” University sophomore Andy Stewart said.
A percentage of any alcohol sales would go to the athletics department, Maturi said, but he doesn’t anticipate a huge financial gain for the department from them.
“The athletic department is not pressing for alcohol sales because it would be a significant increase in concession revenue,” he said. “Our bigger concern is the value of the seating.”
University of Minnesota Police Department Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said University police are hoping alcohol will not be sold or served in the general seating areas.
“That will make our jobs much easier,” he said.
University police have been policing the Metrodome during Gopher football games for the past several years, where alcohol is sold as part of the leasing agreement, Miner said.
“We keep pretty busy in the first half of the game dealing with intoxicated individuals,” he said.
An incident last fall in which a couple had sex in a Metrodome bathroom stall is an example of the kind of situation that could be avoided by not selling alcohol, Miner said.
“It probably would not have occurred if those individuals were sober,” he said. “Those were both of-age individuals with alcohol that was legally purchased at the stadium or elsewhere … Generally, we don’t have problems with people in a sporting environment who are sober.”
Miner said, however, that there is a problem with people who drink before going to sporting events.
“The flip side is: The alcohol-related issues we dealt with were probably individuals who drank alcohol prior to even coming to the stadium,” he said.
Men and women are equal contributors to alcohol-related incidents at the Metrodome, Miner has found. Typically, intoxicated people are found vomiting in restroom stalls.
“Not the sort of thing that I think someone looks forward to seeing or hearing,” Miner said. “There are families. There are young children at these events. The best game-day experience is what we’re hoping for.”