COLUMBIA — The lines weren’t long, but there were lines. The demand wasn’t great, but there was a demand.
South Carolina allowed alcohol sales in its public seating at Colonial Life Arena for the first time last week, and after two games, the results have been very positive.
“I think it’s great that there haven’t been incidents. Aramark has been serving beer here for years at concerts, so the operation is pretty seamless,” said Eric Nichols, USC’s head of athletic marketing. “I think part of it is learning the patterns so we can best put the points of sale in the parts of the arena where basketball fans want to buy beer.”
The difference was immediately noticed. Entering CLA for a Jan. 2 women’s basketball game hosting Kentucky, there were kiosks selling alcohol near each of the three main entrances. Some fans stopped to get a beer or wine before they headed to their seat, some waited until halftime.
It was the same for a Jan. 7 men’s game hosting Florida. With combined attendance (tickets sold, not actual) just under 23,000 for the two games, USC sold around 700 units of alcohol at the women’s game and 1,661 units at the men’s game.
Total sales were a hair shy of $20,000, of which USC keeps half. The other half goes to Aramark, USC’s concessions vendor.
There have only been a few games (the USC women also hosted Arkansas at the end of the week), but signs are pointing toward alcohol sales being a boon for the athletic department. USC, one of 22 departments across the country that operates in the black, may not heavily profit year to year from alcohol, but profit can be gained.
“Will it be seven figures? You would hope it could be. But I’m not sure it will be,” USC athletic director Ray Tanner said to the Board of Trustees when he was presenting the idea of alcohol sales. “We don’t know exactly what basketball brings, or baseball, and again, football, the success of your program and when you play, how the weather is. It’s very difficult to pinpoint. We’ll have to go through a season to get a good feel for where we are.”
The stands sell 16-ounce domestic beers for $8, premium beers for $9 and craft beers for $10. Wine is $9.
There are eight to 10 varieties, which could change once the data is examined or sponsorships are gained. Sales from CLA through the end of the basketball seasons will impact what’s sold and how much is available once baseball season begins on Feb. 14.
That will naturally flow into what will happen during the 2020 football season. Williams-Brice Stadium continues to be renovated, but wider concourses and improved seating will have room for individual alcohol points of sale.
As Tanner pointed out, weather and team’s performance will have a bearing on the sales once baseball and football begin selling. Beer is as integral a part of watching a baseball game as a hot dog, but February/early March weather at Founders Park can be chilly. For football, with kickoff times at the mercy of the TV networks, there’s no telling how many fans will want to purchase alcohol if it’s too early, or too late and they have to drive home afterward.
But so far, selling alcohol has been a nice perk. Alcohol sales are probably not the reason fans are going to the games, but they’re taking advantage of it being available.