Wyoming Athletics

Wyoming cheerleaders fly flags across the end zone during a game with New Mexico on Oct. 12, 2013 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie. A strategic plan proposal drafted by the athletics department asks for an additional $5 million in annual funding. 

File | Star-Tribune

Listen to them lie.

They lie in unison, in harmony, in song. They lie at the top of their lungs -- in loud, anthemic voices. They lie in gold shirts and brown hats and jerseys, in snow storms and abundant sunshine alike.

In War Memorial Stadium, they lie. In the Arena-Auditorium, they lie all the same.

When the band cues up "The Beer Song," University of Wyoming students sway, and pump fists, and revel. And by no fault of their own, they lie.

Their lie goes a little something like this:

In heaven there is no beer (No beer!)

That's why we drink it here (Right here!)

And when we're gone from here

All our friends will be drinking all the beer

The German folk song -- actually titled "In Heaven There is No Beer" -- is an inarguably catchy number, one that has been embraced by the university's student body and adopted as its own. And yet, its lyrics are more tease than truth.

Like so many universities nationwide, the University of Wyoming doesn't sell beer at any of its athletics events -- football and basketball included. The risks, according to the administration, outweigh the potential reward.

But as years pass, the climate is shifting. Restrictions are falling away, and a previously untapped revenue source is popping up more and more.

West Virginia -- a land grant institution, like UW -- began selling beer at football games in 2011. Minnesota followed in 2012, as did Western Kentucky. Texas decided to make beer and wine available at a number of sporting events, including men and women's basketball, earlier this year.

And after a successful trial run in its basketball arena in the 2013-14 season, SMU announced in late June that it will also sell beer and wine at home football games in 2014.

“I can confirm that our plan is to sell beer at Ford Stadium starting this fall," SMU spokesman Brad Sutton told the Star-Tribune in an email. "We were deliberate in setting the plan for Moody [Coliseum], and it was safe and successful, so this process will also be carefully designed and vetted before we roll it out.”

Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, Memphis and Tulane all sell beer in some capacity. Brews are also no stranger to the Mountain West, as beer has been sold in Colorado State's Hughes Stadium since 1976.

So, why not Wyoming? The athletics department could certainly use another revenue stream, as it ranked 9th out of 12 Mountain West members in total revenue and expenses last year, and 11th in recruiting spending.

But while every dollar needs an origin, Wyoming athletics director Tom Burman said this week that revenue won't flow in on a river of suds.

At least, not any time soon.

“We have not actively discussed with our campus administration serving beer in our venues,” Burman said in a statement. “We understand that this is something some schools have added recently, but at this time I don’t see that as an option at the University of Wyoming.”

While it may not be an option in Laramie (with the exception being War Memorial Stadium's Wildcatter Suites), it's becoming a viable one at other Division I programs across the country. To explore both the advantages and setbacks, the Star-Tribune spoke to administrators from a few schools where "The Beer Song" would be considered a statement of fact, rather than an ironic jingle.

The revenue question

Like nearly all things in sports, this particular dilemma comes down to money. After all the costs associated with selling beer in its venues, plus the likely addition of extra security to overlook the situation, would UW make enough of a profit to make the venture worthwhile?

Right now, that's impossible to say. But by looking at similar cases in the past five years, the outlook is promising.

Minnesota began selling beer inside TCF Bank Stadium in 2012, and reportedly lost nearly $16,000 in its first year despite selling more than $900,000 worth of beer and wine in seven home games.

Year Two, however, was far more lucrative. With approximately $30,000 in one-time expenditures out of the way, the Golden Gophers raked in a profit of $181,678 in 2013. West Virginia's first year of beer and wine sales was much more immediately successful, as the Mountaineers collected more than $500,000 in revenue in 2011.

And though SMU declined to release specific figures to the Star-Tribune, USA Today previously reported that the Mustangs' trial run in the 2013-14 basketball season yielded a six-figure windfall over only 12 total home games.

At this point, you may be thinking: "Yes, but what about a program with a comparable size to Wyoming?" The size of the venue and fan base certainly factor into total gross revenue.

To that point, let's call to the stand Craig Biggs, associate athletic director for facilities and administration at Western Kentucky. His program, entering its first season as a member of Conference USA, earned almost $2 million less in total revenue than Wyoming in 2013, according to USA Today's financial database as well as the Department of Education.

The capacity of the Hilltoppers' football stadium, Houchens Industries–L.T. Smith Stadium, is 22,113, roughly 7,000 less than War Memorial Stadium.

Given that information, could beer sales create a significant profit for a more modestly sized Division I program?

“We’ve had a pretty good revenue increase from doing it," said Biggs, who also declined to release specific sales numbers. "We’ve done very well.”

If you sell it, will they come?

Biggs was tired of seeing more people in the parking lots than in the stands.

The primary reason why Western Kentucky began selling beer at home football games, Biggs said this week, was that too many potential fans were drinking while tailgating and then refusing to attend the actual game.

The administration's logic was that if you offered the same opportunities inside the stadium as in the parking lot, there would be more incentive to enter the gates and support the home team.

Recent ticket sales have supported that theory.

"For the most part, it has worked -- particularly with the students," Biggs said. "A lot of the students now come into the game, basically because they now have a lot of the same opportunities they had outside the game. That has helped quite a bit.”

There are numbers to accompany his claims. In 2011, the year before the beer boom, the Hilltoppers' athletics department earned $1,587,381 in ticket sales, according to USA Today's financial database. In 2012, that profit improved slightly to $1,617,294. And last year, it skyrocketed to $2,098,880.

Of course, wins and losses are the primary factor in any such leap. Put a good product on the field, and the rewards will follow.

But put a hoppy product in the concessions stands, Biggs has learned, and that draw will play a part as well.

“I do think this is just another avenue that has helped us grow our attendance,” he said.

So now, the question becomes: Does Wyoming have an attendance problem? And if so, would selling beer really make any significant difference?

According to one recent Wyoming graduate and longtime UW athletics fan, the answer is obvious.

“I wouldn't say they are annoyed, but I think students want it to be sold. A lot of students would rather tailgate than come into the game," said Connor Cunningham, who graduated from UW this spring. "Also, a lot of students leave to go to a bar and watch the game since they can't buy one [beer] inside the stadium. They are spending money on beer elsewhere instead.

"Now that I think about it, annoyed is a good word.”

Beer and behavior

Like Mentos and Diet Coke, college students and beer are two volatile elements that don't always mix.

Bring alcohol into stadiums, and it's logical to think that intoxication, disorderly conduct, underage drinking and arrests could follow.

But in Biggs' experience, adding alcohol to the concession offerings actually produced the opposite effect.

“It’s actually been way better than expected," he said. "In the last two years, our alcohol-related arrests inside the stadium have gone down from before we started. We attribute it to the fact that when you couldn’t buy it in the stadium, particularly the younger fans, they felt like they had to get as much in their system before the game as they could because they couldn’t get it in the game.

"So we had a lot coming into the stadium that were already intoxicated or pushing the limit at that point. That caused a lot of issues."

Biggs isn't alone. West Virginia also reported fewer incidents related to binge drinking after adding beer to its menu. SMU, too, introduced beer in Moody Coliseum without the rowdy behavioral consequences that some might expect.

And as for Colorado State, which has been selling beer at home football games for nearly 40 years?

"We are not aware of any behavior/legal issues that have occurred due to beer sales,” CSU senior associate athletics director for sales and marketing Jason Layton told the Star-Tribune in an email.

In that case, how are these schools able to control how much they sell, and who they sell it to?

Most of their systems are similar, but with a few various tweaks. At basketball games last year, SMU mandated that every student 21-or-older wear a wristband with three pull tabs, and one would be pulled off for each beer they bought until they reached the three-beer plateau. Non-students were also restricted to buying only one beer per trip to the concessions stand.

At Colorado States' Hughes Stadium, potential buyers must also show ID and have a wristband, can only purchase one beer at a time, and all beer sales are cut off at the end of halftime.

Western Kentucky, by contrast, enforces a two-beer limit, stops selling beer at the end of the third quarter and gives all of its concessionaires the right to refuse service to anyone who appears visibly intoxicated.

But what about those families that are attending the games with small children, and don't want their kids exposed to potentially intoxicated parties?

Biggs encountered that problem as well, and quickly dealt with it.

"We had a few family-oriented individuals that complained about wanting us to create a family section, which we have done," Biggs said. "You can’t drink alcohol in a couple sections of our stadium. That has helped.

"And for the most part it has been very well received.”

It's not as if War Memorial Stadium is truly alcohol-free, either. Cunningham confirmed that many students who want to drink during games have little trouble sneaking in beer or liquor.

At University of Wyoming athletics events, beer will inevitably pass through the gates. But in the future, who will bring it in, the administration or the student body?

The bottom line

Regardless of the money that could be made or fans that could be appeased, Wyoming is not considering selling beer in any of its athletics venues for the time being.

And while there are examples to be found in many conferences and regions of the opposite stance, most programs still side with UW. Beer is a risk, and the potential revenue may not be worth the side effects it carries with it.

For a change to occur, Burman, UW President Dick McGinity, the university's board of trustees and the state legislature would all likely have to come around to the idea of beer inside "The War."

Until then, the band will keep playing, the students will keep singing, and the lie will keep echoing through a dry stadium on Saturday afternoons.

Reach reporter Mike Vorel at Mike.Vorel@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeVorel.

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