The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 15, 2011

Luck: Control key to beer proposal

Financial aspect significant but isn’t driving motivation, WVU’s AD says

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck says money isn’t the driving motivation behind bringing beer sales to Mountaineer Field.

But it helps.

Luck took an hour out of his day Thursday morning to explain to the media that there are a million-and-one reasons why the athletic department has requested the WVU Board of Governors to approve beer sales for Mountaineer Field.

A million of them, give or take maybe three-hundred-thousand either way, come in the form of dollar signs.

The other one is to control crowd behavior that Luck believes has evolved into a near embarrassment and threatens to harm the future of WVU athletics due to alcohol usage at the least and alcohol abuse at the worst.

He claims the latter is the true motivation.

Asked if this discussion would be going on even if there were not such an attractive profit on beer sales, Luck answered succinctly, “Yes.”

But, he notes, the money aspect of it doesn’t hurt.

“Clearly there’s a financial aspect to it,” he said. “I’d be the last one to deny that, but I’m charged with keeping my eyes open for financial opportunities for our athletic department.”

Luck said that beer, if approved, would sell at a premium price, probably $7 to $8 for a 16-ounce cup, and that it would raise somewhere between a half million dollars and $1.3 million, depending upon number of home games, weather, the competitiveness of the team and other factors that make predicting how much profit will come from it tough to call.

Luck maintains, however, that the crucial element is regaining – or, probably more to the point, gaining – some sort of control over crowd behavior.

“We sat down last fall with our and started to talk about all the policies and procedures of the stadium,” Luck said, beginning to explain the genesis of the request of the BOG to serve beer. “We had seen over the years some declining attendance, folks leaving and not coming back in for the third and fourth quarters. Those were areas of concern.”

This was not the only problem. Luck asked to see complaint letters than had been received over the past few years.

“There were a couple of common threads,” he said, listing them:

1. Declining civility of WVU fans and traveling fans as well. That’s probably a national trend.

2. Luck said there were a surprising number of them saying things like I’d love to bring my two kids or two grandkids to the game but the language is getting bad and we’re questioning renewing our season tickets.

That sent out warning signals.

“The most alarming letters are from adults bringing younger kids, and it’s so important to establish traditions for kids to be at a football game or a sporting event, because you are creating a memory for that kid, a positive experience of being at a Mountaineer game. It is something that becomes part of that young person’s life.

“If the coarse behavior was leading to adults not taking kids to the games, because of language and other things, that’s not a good sign. You potentially run the risk of losing a generation of fans. With our demographics, we can’t afford to lose young fans. We need those folks to grow up on a steady diet of Mountaineer sports.”

Luck and the group he gathered to study the issue believed the biggest problem was binge drinking, either before the game or during it and at halftime.

“Leave the stadium when the cleanup crew is working and you don’t need to be a genius to see how many empty bottles of various sizes are left over,” he said.

That turned the discussions quite serious.

“We talked about various things we could do to improve the game day experience,” Luck said. “We want to create a family-friendly, enjoyable environment and at the same time maintain what I think is a great home-field advantage for our football team. That’s a little bit of a challenge because you consider a home field advantage to be a raucous, loud, maybe ornery crowd that puts pressure on the opponent.”

They began focusing on three issues — beer sales to the general public combined with doing away with pass outs and changing the smoking policy.

“Many people will say it’s counterintuitive, Mr. Luck, to have beer sold and thinking that can improve the atmosphere or the civility,” Luck said. “But based on our conversation with the safety folks and from what our staff has seen, there’s a strong belief the uncivil behavior or lack of civil behavior stems from binge drinking before or at halftime.

“Doing this, we think gaining limited control — we won’t police tailgates — is the way to help accomplish our goal of improving the atmosphere and the civility of the fans and keep that raucous atmosphere which we believe is an advantage to our football team.”

One factor making this enticing to Luck is that the concessionaire, Sodexo, will possess the liquor license and will therefore have the liability should there be incidents rising out of alcohol use.

Luck realizes that such things as fights or public intoxication can happen, but he says the local and state police have not objected to the plan.

“We would not, as a state institution, do anything where the state police or the city or university police said absolutely no way, this is not a good thing. It would be silly for us to try to implement a policy where public safety officials were not supportive.

“It’s safe to say they believe this will accomplish what they want to accomplish as well, which is cut back on the binge drinking that has become a problem and increase the civility of the behavior and make it a little more fan friendly and a little more family friendly.”

The matter is currently before the board of governors, and it is taking comments from the public. Email comments to Valarie.Lopez@mail.wvu.edu.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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