NU Regents approve pilot program to sell alcohol at basketball games

Sept. 30, 2022, 1 p.m. ·

Nebraska Board of Regents listen to a presenter at their meeting at UNK
The Nebraska Board of Regents passed three significant proposals for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's athletic department at its meeting in Kearney on Friday. (Photo via Board of Regents livestream)

Significant changes are coming for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s athletic department after the Nebraska Board of Regents passed three proposals at its meeting on Friday.

  • The regents approved alcohol sales at Pinnacle Bank Arena for men’s and women’s basketball games starting this year, a part of a two-year trial program for beer sales.
  • The board also approved a new multimedia rights deal for UNL’s athletic department. The deal, worth $300 million and 15 years long, will partner the department with Playfly for the university’s sports radio broadcasts, among other things.
  • And the governing body gave the go ahead for UNL’s athletic director to select a design team and construction firm for Memorial Stadium renovations.

All three proposals passed unanimously on 7-0 votes. The regents normally have eight voters, but Regent Barbara Weitz of Omaha was not present at Friday’s meeting for family matters.

Dry arena no longer?

“We feel very, very comfortable with this proposal moving forward as a pilot the next couple of years,” said UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green.

The alcohol sales are not finalized, however. Because Pinnacle Bank Arena is owned by the City of Lincoln, the city council will need to give a final stamp of approval. A city spokesperson said the council will vote at its meeting on Monday, October 24. Under the trial run, the city will get 90% of the net revenue from sales.

Baxter Arena, where the University of Nebraska at Omaha plays hockey, already sells beers – as do the baseball and softball facilities at UNO. Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus asked UNO’s Chancellor Joanne Li if her campus has had fan behavior problems.

“We have not seen any behavior that is of concern at this point,” she said.

The sales at the arena may only be just the beginning at UNL. Memorial Stadium could be a possibility in the future. The stadium sold beers at a Garth Brooks concert in August 2021. But that’s a different proposal for a different day, said Regent Rob Schaffer of Beatrice.

“This is something that requires all patrons of the game to be accountable,” said regent Tim Clare of Lincoln. “I would just encourage that amongst the fans that are in attendance.”

Only one Nebraskan made a public comment at the meeting. David Fulton of Pleasanton, a small town north of Kearney, said nothing good comes from a can or bottle. He used the Brooks concert as an example.

“It wasn’t a pretty picture,” Fulton said. “I was very glad that we had chosen not to take any of our grandchildren to that concert.”

Regent Bob Phares of North Platte, the chair of the board, said another Nebraskan had submitted written testimony.

Pillen, also the Republican nominee for governor, said the board consulted security experts, who said fans binge drink less when they have access at stadiums.

Multimedia rights and stadium renovations

The company that now holds UNL’s multimedia rights agreement also works with Michigan State University and University of Maryland athletics. Previously, the athletic department worked with Learfield IMG for 16 years. After the pandemic disrupted collegiate sports, UNL took their broadcasting rights in-house in March 2021.

But running the broadcasting in-house didn’t quite do it for Pillen. He said a 7-year option in the project provides flexibility. So too does “the ability to more fully engage on Nebraskans across the planet” with the new agreement.

While a price tag for Memorial Stadium renovations have not been released by Trev Alberts, the athletic director said a redevelopment of the south end zone, concession areas and concourse are likely for the project.

“See yourself at the top row of South Stadium and you have to go to the restroom. It’s a long ways down to get a pop, go to the restroom or anything,” said Regent Paul Kenney of Amherst. “You got to think about the fans there.”

The regents took their meeting on road Friday, meeting from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Normally, the board meets at Varner Hall, just south of UNL’s East Campus in Lincoln.

UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen and NU system President Carter praised recent developments at the Kearney campus, particularly the rural health facilities and a new nursing program that university leaders hope fill needed healthcare workers in central and western Nebraska.

The next NU Board of Regents meeting is scheduled for Dec. 2, 2022 in Lincoln.