(I've updated this post twice below.)
Back in the day — oh, about a week ago or so — I thought there were only two ways you could have a beer at a college sports event at a public state university: make friends with someone having a tailgate party, or smuggle it in.
Current state law generally forbids beer and wine sales at athletic venues at UNC System schools. As a bill that would legalize beer and wine sales throughout stadiums and arenas made its way out of the legislature last week, I started checking around. Turns out that there’s a lot of beer to be had if you know where to look.
• A lot of UNC System schools already allow beer sales in specific and restricted areas of their football stadiums. (Think luxury boxes and premium seating.) These include the Blue Zone at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Stadium, Vaughn Towers at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, the Club Level at Appalachian State’s Kidd Brewer Stadium (it’s BYO for people with Suite Level seats) and the Murphy Center (and the soon-to-open club south tower) at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
• Beer gardens are becoming a thing. UNC-Charlotte opened one outside its football stadium on game days in 2017. Appalachian State and N.C. A&T followed suit in 2018. Beer garden rules require that the sports fan and his beer stay within the beer garden.
• The Greensboro Coliseum sells beer at UNCG men’s basketball home games. The state law that prohibits alcohol sales at “a business on the campus or property of a public school, college, or university” doesn’t extend to a city-owned property like the Coliseum.
If state law generally doesn't allow beer sales at athletic venues, well, how are some people buying beer at games?
UNC-CH, for starters, has a specific exemption in state law. (It's the only UNC System school with its own loophole.) North Carolina’s current alcohol law lists eight exemptions to the ban on alcohol sales on state university campuses. These include hotels (such as the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill), performing arts centers, restaurants and retail establishments on millennial campuses and the Loudermilk Center for Excellence at UNC-CH. The eight-year-old Loudermilk Center stands next to the football stadium and houses academic support offices for all student-athletes, a strength and conditioning facility for Olympic athletes — and the Blue Zone, the 2,980-seat premium viewing area I mentioned earlier.
The other UNC System schools seem to have found a loophole to sell beer at games in designated and restricted areas.
For beer to be sold at the Blue Zone, UNC-CH still has to get a special one-time permit for each home game. The state ABC Commission issues these special one-time permits to nonprofit organizations for ticketed (i.e., restricted) events or a single fundraising event. Assuming a school’s alcohol policy allows alcohol in the football stadium under certain conditions — and my quick check of policies suggests that they do at the schools I mentioned above — well, there’s your loophole.
That also would explain why my shallow dive into the ABC permit database found that university-affiliated foundations generally were the ones getting special one-time permits on home football Saturdays. You might see a beer garden; the universities and the ABC Commission see a nonprofit fundraiser.
Right now, the only N.C. school that sells beer at football games no matter where you sit is Wake Forest University, which has done so since 2016. (The state ban on selling alcohol at college sporting events doesn't apply to private schools.) The law that sits on the governor’s desk could open up that possibility to all UNC schools and at all athletic venues.
So will all UNC schools jump on that beer wagon? That’s harder to guess.
Back in March, the board chairs at 14 UNC schools signed a letter supporting the change in state law. This N&O story suggests that N.C. State seems to be leaning toward selling beer, largely to prevent the continued halftime exodus of thirsty fans back to their parking lot tailgate parties. UNC-CH, according to the same story, won't talk about its plans until the governor decides one way or the other.
A&T will bring back its beer garden at home football games for a second season this fall. I’m trying to find out whether A&T has any plans to expand beer sales beyond that.
UNCG won’t sell beer at games at any of its on-campus venues. UNCG Athletics Director Kim Record told me that UNCG supports the bill and the other UNC schools that are pushing for a change in state law.
A change in state law “gives us the opportunity to opt in should the university want to,” Record said. (Note that stadium and arena beer sales aren’t automatic; university trustees would have to approve a new policy specifically allowing it.)
UNC-Charlotte, meanwhile, will start a pilot program this fall if the bill is signed into law. Under that program, UNCC would sell beer at its football, baseball, basketball and soccer facilities.
“The University will continue ensuring our family-friendly fan experience offering controlled sales, designated concession stands, trained staff, drink limits, and will strictly adhere to ABC laws and regulations,” UNCC spokeswoman Biffie Stephens told me by email. “All other details are still being considered as we examine our venues.”
Appalachian State's trustees looked at some options at their meeting Friday. I'll let you know what those options are once I find out.
Update, 9:15 a.m. Tuesday: An N.C. A&T spokeswoman let me know late Monday that A&T is "still exploring our options for the expansion of beer sales at campus athletic events." So the only alcohol sales for the moment will be in the beer garden outside the football stadium.
Update, 9:45 a.m. Tuesday: Winston-Salem State let me know this morning that it, too, is evaluating its options and doesn't have immediate plans to sell alcohol at its sporting events.