Working to Separate an Unhealthy Combination – Alcohol and Sports

from the Fresh Story Blog – 2/1/11

A new study has found that alcohol and sports make a truly dangerous combination, with one in every 12 fans leaving major sporting events drunk. The study was reported online in January this year, and will be published in the April 2011 print edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota conducted the research following 13 baseball games and three football games in 2006. Fans volunteered to participate in an anonymous breathalyzer test as well as a brief verbal survey as they were leaving the event stadium. The study is the first ever in the U.S. to measure blood alcohol content levels in fans after professional sporting events. Here’s a summary of what they learned:

  • One in 12 fans was legally intoxicated when he or she left the event.
  • Fans under the age of 35 were nine times more likely to be drunk.
  • Fans who tailgated before a game were 14 times more likely to leave the game drunk.
  • About one in four fans who tailgated said they had consumed five or more alcohol beverages while tailgating.

Given the startling data of the study, public health advocates are calling for sobriety check-points and tests for fans after games, as well as discouraging tailgating and halting alcohol sales in the latter portion of games. While these measures are certainly a good start, others are working to disentangle alcohol and sports – especially when it comes to college sports.

In North Dakota, state representative Chuck Damschen has introduced a bill that would ban alcohol at the state’s collegiate athletic events. Representative Damschen has said that the purpose of the proposal is to help fight underage drinking at college sport events. If approved, the bill would ban alcohol at all collegiate sporting events, including all college facilities and adjacent properties that are often used for tailgating.

Elsewhere on the college front, there are signs that sports can be freed from the alcohol connection. For example, among the 120 largest schools in NCAA Division 1, only about three dozen allow beer sales inside the stadiums, and most limit alcohol sales to luxury suites. The country’s largest college football venue, Michigan Stadium, has been and continues to be alcohol-free – even after a recent renovation and addition of luxury suites. Other prominent college football schools, such as Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Colorado at Boulder – are all examples of universities that fill their stadiums, game after game and season after season, without alcohol sales.

Another positive sign has been the success of the Big Ten Network, which is the first television sports network that does not accept alcohol advertising. The Big Ten Network is a dedicated cable sports channel for the Big Ten Conference. As of September last year, the network had approximately 43 million subscribers, as well as a sold-out ad schedule for the 2010 football season – without beer commercials. According to the network’s vice president of advertising, the alcohol-free policy has been positive. “People like us for having a different environment,” he said. The success of the Big Ten Network has demonstrated that sports television can succeed without beer ads. Now that other conferences such as the Southeastern Conference have also announced plans to launch their own cable sports channels, hopefully they will follow the Big Ten’s example of alcohol-free college sports television.

To learn more about the issue of alcohol and sports, especially televised sports, see the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV.

Sources: “One in 12 fans leaves major sports events drunk: study,” BusinessWeek.com, January 18, 2011. “Bill to ban alcohol at collegiate athletic events introduced,” GrandForksHerald.com, December 31, 2010. “Big Ten Network cashing in on football,”Broadcasting & Cable.com, September 6, 2010. “Beer sales make a comeback at college stadiums,” Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2009. 

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