Last week James Madison University announced that it would begin beer sales at Bridgeforth Stadium for the upcoming football season. Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne addressed the decision.
Question: The topic of beer sales in college football has been going on for years. Why start this now at JMU?
Answer: There are several reasons. One of the main reasons is that the NCAA over the past couple years has really opened up the opportunity for alcohol to be sold at different venues like the FCS Championship game and Final Four this year. The stance from a NCAA standpoint changed.
From an institutional perspective, we feel like there are many advantages to it. One, obviously, is fan enhancement and doing everything we can so the experience is as good for our constituents as possible.
We talked to our campus security and public safety and feel like there are real advantages to control sales in the stadium versus having people bring product in.
As part of this, we’re also going through a step this year to add gated security with metal detectors and a clear bag policy.
We just felt like the timing was right for us, and we have been considering it for some time, but we think this year is the year to start.
Question: What hesitations have been there in the past to selling beer?
Answer: We wanted to make sure that once it’s instituted that it can be controlled, and we’ve worked with Aramark, who is our food vendor on campus, and we’ve also worked with the ABC board to look at other ways of monitoring it.
We did wait for some other state schools to jump in and start selling product. I know VCU and Richmond have been selling beer at games and we’ve watched how that went. We’ve also looked at beer garden sales at institutions outside of our league and outside of Virginia and have gotten feedback from those institutions.
Before we made a decision, we wanted to make sure we were doing the right research and had the right analytics that we could back up our decision.
Question: Have you heard any initial feedback from the fan base?
Answer: Overwhelmingly a great deal of support for it. Everything from, “We’re elated this is happening,” to, “Why did it take you so long?”
I receive a lot of advice and input, which is always good. But in this case, it appears there is just overwhelming support for it.
Question: You’ve mentioned fan experience. College football attendance on average has been down 7 of the past 8 seasons. What are the growing challenges of getting fans to buy tickets and come to the game?
Answer: Well, we’re blessed in the sport of football to have tremendous fan support, so getting fans to come to the games isn’t the issue, getting them to come in early has been a challenge. We feel like this is going to offer additional incentive for fans to come into the game at an earlier time.
We also feel like in the third quarter, where historically a lot of institutions have lost fans, we are going to be able to retain them in the third quarter with being able to offer [beer] sales.
There are a lot of advantages to that we see, at least, from a preliminary standpoint and hope they will be validated as the season goes on.