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Lobo football: Come for the game, stay for the brews

The days of sneaking a beer or two into University Stadium are over for Armand Giannini and Joe Anderson.

“There’s no need anymore,” the pair of University of New Mexico football fans clad in cherry and silver said with smirks before Thursday night’s season-opening football game against South Dakota – the first time the school opened beer and wine sales to all areas of the facility.

OK, so the two insist they haven’t actually sneaked beers into the stadium since sometime around their graduation from UNM in 1991, but 25 years later they, and dozens of others at Thursday’s game, were of a similar sentiment.

What took so long?

Patrons line up before the game Thursday to get wristbands that would allow them to buy beer in University Stadium.

Patrons line up before the game Thursday to get wristbands that would allow them to buy beer in University Stadium. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“I think the way UNM has been going about this has been responsible,” Giannini said. “… If people get out of hand, they should stop it. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. It makes sense that they do it.”

Of course, as fans, police and university administrators universally admit, the success or failure of UNM’s great beer experiment won’t be determined for some time. In fact, a true definition of success – is it to attract more fans, add to the enjoyment of those already going to games, generate more revenue, or all of the above – might not really be known just yet.

What is clear, like it or not, is the ball is now rolling on beer and wine sales at sporting events for UNM.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Lori Powell of Albuquerque, who along with husband, Ken, and Kelsey Bailey were enjoying local craft beers in the south end zone of the newly created Chama River Brewing Co. Craft Corner. “I think it’s great that they’re doing it and that you can actually buy local beers, too.”

The early returns elsewhere showed no major concerns in the stadium, where the buzz from the beer may have lasted longer than that from the excitement for the game as the Lobos blew out their visitors 48-21.

“We didn’t have any incidents – none – that we would say were related to the new alcohol sales,” said UNM Police Lt. Timothy Stump, adding anything on-site officers dealt with Thursday was no different than in past seasons.

UNM did set up plenty of precautions, including requiring fans to first show an ID at one of four checkpoints around the stadium to get a wristband to wear throughout the game. Anderson estimated that he and Giannini spent “maybe two minutes” in line before the game.

Customers had to again show ID and their wristband, which was marked with a black marker, at any concession stand selling beer – $8 for domestic brews or $9 for the discerning palate craving “premium” selections – with sales cut off once the wristband had four marks on it.

Police and stadium personnel were to make sure to stop – or identify to the proper authorities – anyone seen drinking without a wristband.

“It really wasn’t that big a deal,” said Alfonso Serna, who attends Lobo games regularly and had a Blue Moon with his girlfriend at Thursday’s game. “It’s better this way so they can make a little money off it at least.”

The process for sales will be reviewed and revised as necessary, said Brad Hutchins, UNM’s deputy athletic director for external operations.

“We wanted to do it in a very thoughtful and pragmatic way,” Hutchins said. “Once we got approved to do it, we really took a lot of time in trying to work on the process of how we were going to sell – what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.

“Ideally, you don’t want to have long lines, but that’s OK if that happens because we want to make sure we set up all the checks we need to.”

UNM Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs said he talked with several universities around the country that are already selling alcohol at games. He also had an in-depth discussion with Oliver Luck, an executive with the NCAA and former athletic director at West Virginia, who pointed out that selling beer in stadiums gives universities a greater ability to control the drinking going on around sporting events.

“He (Luck) really made me realize that, if done right, which we’re confident we’re doing, this is a very controlled way to do this and we hope it helps,” Krebs said.

According to a contract reviewed by the Journal between UNM and Levy Restaurants, the school’s new concessions provider starting this academic year, all alcohol sales in general admission seating areas will be split on a 50/50 basis.

Krebs and Hutchins both admitted they don’t have a specific dollar figure in mind for the revenue they hope the sales generate each year, but they are optimistic it will easily get into the six figures.

UNM has been approved already to sell alcohol at baseball and softball games, as well as soccer and tennis matches, but hasn’t decided yet if they will. Beer and wine sales at Lobo basketball games in the Pit, however, are going to happen this season, though specific details about how and where it will be allowed have not yet been finalized.

Stump told the Journal before Thursday’s game there would be an added police presence, including officers from UNM, the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho police departments, and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, at games as the adjustment to the beer sales takes place.