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Alcohol sales: Fair or foul?

Fans in luxury seats enjoy access; critics say UI sends mixed signals

Scott Dochterman

The Gazette

October 7, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

  IOWA CITY — Jim Clayton’s voice was audible. His message was clear. His was a dissenting vote on a committee that OK’d a University of Iowa plan to sell alcohol to people in Kinnick Stadium’s luxury seating areas this year.

  As co-chairman of the Stepping Up Project, which encourages students to avoid alcohol, Clayton said the university had an opportunity to take the lead against advocating alcoholism.

  ‘‘It’s a cultural message that we send to young people that alcohol has to be part of a sporting event,’’ Clayton said.

  Tailgating with alcohol is as much an Iowa football tradition as the swarm of Hawkeyes entering the field before kickoff. But never was it sanctioned or allowed in Kinnick Stadium. Until now.

  Iowa sells beer and wine to fans in 46 suites and 130 indoor club seats. There are restrictions — two beers per purchase, no alcohol sold after the third quarter and, no minors can be served. The Iowa Memorial Union holds the liquor license and provides the alcohol. Suite- holders cannot bring their own alcohol.

  University suites operated by the  interim president, athletics director and Iowa Foundation do not allow alcohol.

  Iowa sold beer and wine in 37 of 46 suites the first three games. Gross sales totaled $20,940.75, with $7,595.25 of that at the Ohio State last Saturday.

  Dave Hearn, a vice president with Des Moines-based Baker Electric, said he enjoyed the beverage selection and prompt service in his company’s 18-seat suite last Saturday night. ‘‘We had one lady dedicated for our suite,’’ Hearn said. ‘‘We didn’t have any problems getting whatever we wanted.’’

  Scott Brown, Iowa’s director of seating and stadium club operations, said the Iowa Memorial Union assigns a suite attendant, usually a student, to each suite.

  ‘‘People seem generally happy with the food and beverage service,’’ Brown said. ‘‘We haven’t had any big complaints.’’

  Critics have said the service sanctions alcoholic consumption, contradicting the university’s efforts to curb substance abuse by students.

  ‘‘It just embeds alcohol in our culture,’’ Clayton said. ‘‘At the University of Iowa, it’s already embedded enough with somewhere around 70 percent of the students drinking to get drunk on a frequent basis.’’

  Others have downplayed the significance, pointing to routine alcohol sales at Hancher Auditorium’s cultural events.

  Phillip Jones, a university vice president for student services, said the committee initially chose not to sell alcohol, but David Skorton, president at the time, made the final decision.

  ‘‘We have limited service rather than none,’’ said Jones, who oversees alcohol sales and prevention efforts on campus. ‘‘ In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have it.’’

  Jones said he’s spent years trying to curb binge drinking on campus. He figures alcohol becomes more of an amenity in a social setting in the upscale indoor suites, which cost at least $45,000 this year, and the indoor club seats, which run $5,000 a season.

  ‘‘It’s a criticism that we recognize,’’ he said.

  But selling to wealthy Iowa supporters shuts out bluecollar fans who cheer just as hard, Clayton said.

  ‘‘The elitist part of it was an argument we made, I made,’’ Clayton said. ‘‘We just thought, again, it sounded like if you have enough money, we’ll bend the rules.

  ‘‘I guess it’s not much different than buying a glass of wine at Hancher. But then again, it’s the embedding of alcohol into everything we do.’’