A bipartisan state House bill cleared Wednesday its first Senate committee hurdle to allow state universities to ramp up beer and wine sales on game days.
Right now, sales and consumption of alcohol for those age 21 and older are not legally permitted other than in certain areas at Kenan Stadium at UNC Chapel Hill and Carter-Finley Stadium at N.C. State.
House Bill 389 would expand sales and consumption at campus stadiums, arenas and athletic facilities — if their boards of trustees approve. Mixed drinks would be available at non-sports events if vendors have the right permit.
The House approved the bill by an 87-25 vote April 16.
The bill would require beer and wine sales take place in designated areas that allow for vendors to control sales, including checking for identification for underage fans.
The law does not cover community colleges. The bill must clear Senate Commerce and Insurance, and Rules and Operations committees before going to a floor vote.
Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe, said the bill would “leave it to each university to determine whether alcohol sales work for them.” He acknowledged that it is likely East Carolina, N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill would be early adopters of new or expanded sales.
Wake Forest began limited beer and wine sales at BB&T Field and Joel Coliseum in 2016 in response to fan requests.
It is not clear where Appalachian State, N.C. A&T and Winston-Salem State stand on HB389, although ASU had an athletic department official present at the Senate Education/Higher Education committee Wednesday.
“At least 14 UNC System schools have endorsed this measure, so it appears likely that most of the schools would at least consider offering alcohol sales,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.
“Those campuses will weigh the benefits of the additional revenue against any costs linked to new enforcement measures against underage drinking.”
Legislative opponents to the bill cited concerns about families being subjected to more fans consuming alcohol, some of whom may become belligerent, or alcohol sales becoming such a revenue driver that it may affect or dictate other public-policy issues.
The Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League said he opposed the bill because it could exacerbate alcoholic and sexual assault abuse incidents at state universities.
Creech said he was bothered that state universities “were more concerned about Confederate statues on their campuses than alcohol abuse on their campuses.”
Both Edwards and Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said they expect alcohol sales inside the sports venues to be limited in nature, in part because those consuming likely drank alcohol during tailgate events.
“If you get stumbling drunk over $10 beers, you’ve likely got another problem,” Tillman said. He said he supported the bill as “good, sound public policy, and it would be safer than what we have now in terms of addressing underage drinking at games.”
Kokai said HB389 “fits with a series of bills this year that take aim at government restrictions involving alcohol. The General Assembly, as a whole, appears more willing than the legislators of 10 or 20 years ago to consider loosening those restrictions.”
Rick Steinbacher, senior associate athletic director at UNC Chapel Hill with marketing and corporate sponsorships, told committee members UNC’s support for the bill stems from two main reasons: the ability to control sales though a third-party vendor; and meeting fan expectations.
“We believe selling alcoholic beverages in a controlled environment will reduce the number of (alcohol-related) incidents at games,” Steinbacher said.
Steinbacher said 40% of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision members already permit alcohol sales to those ages 21 and older.
Tuesday’s decision by the Southeastern Conference to end its ban on alcoholic beverage sales at football stadiums, beginning Aug. 1, was cited by Steinbacher. There are restrictions that include that beer and wine is only served in cups at concession stands, and cutoffs be set for how many drinks can be purchased and at what time sales end during the course of the game.
“We expect more than half of the SEC universities will sell alcoholic beverage at game events, as well as a high percentage of Power 5 conference members,” Steinbacher said. Power 5 conferences are the Atlantic Coast, Big 10, Big 12, Pacific 12 and SEC.
Wake Forest has sold wine and beer in Deacon Tower since it was built in 2008 and at other select areas of the stadium, including the beer garden called Top Hat Tavern.
The 2016 policy change added more vending sites through the use of age-21 wristbands.
Steve Shutt, associate athletic director of athletic communications, said in 2016 that adding beer and wine for students could also increase game attendance.
“You have to give your fans a good fan experience,” Shutt said. “They’re sitting at home in front of their 60-inch TV with replays and a beer, and we want them to come out to the stadium and have that same experience, but better.”