Mariucci Arena manager Craig Flor said in past seasons, he could “count on one hand” the number of empty suites in an entire hockey season. But this year, there have been four to five empty suites per game.
While the lackluster economy and poor performance of the Gopher hockey team have contributed to the decrease in sales of suites and seats in club rooms, Flor, also the manager of Ridder Arena, said the ban on alcohol in the arena has had a big impact.
“I’ve never seen a season where consistently four to five suites were empty before this year,” he said. “There’s nobody up there.”
Last year, the state Legislature forced the University of Minnesota to decide on an all-or-nothing policy for serving alcohol at sporting events rather than allowing them to provide alcohol only in premium seating, an issue that arose with the opening of TCF Bank Stadium.
The University chose to eliminate alcohol completely,
a ban that not only affected the stadium, but also included Mariucci and Williams arenas.
The University loses approximately $1.3 million from the ban, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said, and other have said that figure is a conservative estimate.
Season ticket prices had to be reduced by about 10 percent just to keep current customers, David Crum, associate athletics director, said.
“There is a financial hit that we are facing because of the loss of alcohol in our facilities,” Crum said. “It’s definitely hurt and it’s reducing attendance.”
Crum said it has been harder to keep up levels of attendance at games this year, especially in suites.
“We’re having to do a lot more outgoing marketing to sell out our club room area in Mariucci,” he said.
The Legislature’s alcohol ban was only aimed at TCF Bank Stadium and not all arenas, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said.
“There was no discussion at all that you were changing a long-held practice for all of the arenas,” she said. “It had been that way for years without anyone ever objecting to it, so I certainly think it was an unintended consequence.”
The University gave the athletics department a one-time $1 million payment to help with the revenue losses, but the money had to be split across the department and must be spent during the 2010 fiscal year, which ends in June.
“Ultimately, it’s the athletics’ bottom line that’s being hurt the most by this,” Flor said “Starting in July, nobody’s going to front us any reimbursement for that decision, and we had forecasted our budget on having that money.”
Earlier this month, Kahn proposed legislation that would give control of alcohol sales in Mariucci and Williams arenas back to the University, but the measure was defeated easily in the House.
“I don’t think Mariucci and Williams should ever have been included in the deal,” Pappas said. “I thought it was a good compromise, but the House didn’t agree.”
On May 15, the Legislature offered a compromise that would allow the University
to have alcohol in premium seating areas if it also offers alcohol in at least one-third of the general seating. The Board of Regents hasn’t made a decision on this offer yet.
With this year’s legislative session over, some have speculated that this issue will return next session, but others say the University should handle the decision.
“I think, frankly, that we shouldn’t micromanage the University on this,” Kahn said. “The Regents should be able to make their own decisions on this.”