The University of Akron has announced it will begin selling beer during Zips football games to the general public at Infocision Stadium.
This is a smart, overdue move designed to, um, get the general public to start coming to games at Infocision Stadium. Beer was previously only sold in the club section and suite areas.
If you haven’t been to Infocision Stadium — and the product on the field hasn’t given you a lot of reason to go — it is truly a gem. It falls behind Ohio Stadium and the two NFL stadiums in the rankings of Ohio’s nicest stadiums, and it has no true peer among its Mid-American Conference rivals. It has an NFL-type pressbox, NFL-type concourses, an NFL-type scoreboard and sound system and there isn’t a bad seat among the 28,000 or so in the house.
Now it will have beer, too. Hopefully not at NFL prices, but we probably know the answer to that.
The thinking goes, If only the Zips could get people to campus and the stadium once, they might be able to get them to come back. That’s why they’ve hired Terry Bowden as head coach, and that’s why Bowden has been talking himself tired (and hungry — sorry, just couldn’t resist) since late December in selling a message, a vision and hope for a program that probably was the worst in NCAA FBS Football the last two years.
Nobody knows if Bowden can really win at Akron, but nobody’s going to fault his effort. It will be very interesting to see where the Zips football program stands 18 months from now.
There is — and has been — a renaissance of sorts at Akron; maybe that’s too strong a word, but it’s certainly been a total makeover. The campus has never looked better. Enrollment is up, and the next part of the vision includes getting away from being an open-enrollment university and eventually having 40,000 students. Akron doesn’t want to be a commuter school with a football fan base that remembers two big games by Charlie Frye. A lot of these things — in terms of perception, academic reputation and an organic, loyal sports fan base — go hand in hand.
Some might even call it “strategic engagement.” Ask Jim Tressel, who started his new gig at Akron this week.
There’s a misconception, I think, among many fans in Ohio (Northeast and Central Ohio, specifically) that it’s against NCAA rules to sell beer at college athletic events. The actual policy is handled school by school, conference by conference. The Big Ten has a no alcohol rule, so there’s no discussion at Ohio State. The University of Cincinnati sells beer at its home football and basketball games. Xavier sells beer at the Cintas Center.
The Akron release on the matter said the school’s board of trustees voted to modify the existing policy following “a comprehensive review of alcohol policies at other football stadiums…a plan that acknowledges the wishes of many football fans while managing alcohol consumption through strict guidelines for concession and distribution control.”
Translation: Akron knows this decision won’t be universally popular, but it’s one that will be popular and potentially productive in getting people to the stadium. The trick, of course, is giving them something to really root for and keep them coming back.
I may or may not know from experience that Akron sold beer at the old Rubber Bowl, but only in a designated corner of that shiny old stadium. The beer that was sold there had to stay there, and once what was there gone, it was gone.
Again, I may or may know that from experience.
I do know from experience that Akron Football has been fighting an uphill battle with relevance for a long, long time. Only wins will change that, but the Bowden name will help. An aggressive marketing campaign will help. A cold beer with your Zips football? When it comes to selling tickets, it certainly can’t hurt.