Tennessee bill allowing alcohol sales at most public college sports venues up for final votes this week

Tennessee bill allowing alcohol sales at most public college sports venues up for final votes this week

March 18th, 2019 by Andy Sher in Politics State

The Pride of the Southland Band forms the Power T prior to kickoff between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Florida Gators at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

NASHVILLE — A bill permitting alcohol sales at most Tennessee public college and university sports stadiums and arenas is up for final action this week in the General Assembly.

State senators are scheduled to take up Senate Bill 598 on Monday on the Senate floor. Representatives in the House have set the companion bill for floor action on Thursday.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena is among an estimated 50 campus facilities across the state that would be affected.

"I think things look pretty good on my side," said Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, who brought the legislation at the request of local tourism and other officials.

Knoxville officials want current law changed, saying the current no-alcohol policy is causing big-time entertainment acts to bypass UT-Knoxville's Neyland Stadium and Boling-Thompson Arena.

The bills easily passed House and Senate committees with minimal opposition. Duncan Massey noted that being an alcohol bill "you know there are always a few members who won't vote for" it.

Both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted for the legislation last week as it came through the finance panel.

Richard Brown, UTC's executive vice chancellor for finance and administration, said in a recent statement to the Times Free Press that the university is interested in the possibility of selling alcohol at non-sports entertainment events.

"Absolutely," Brown said. "I think it makes McKenzie Area more competitive and attractive to clients who come in and utilize the facility."

The bill also opens the way for alcohol to be sold to general admission ticket-holders at games, depending on whether the sports conference an institution belongs to permits that. The Southeastern Conference, in which UT-Knoxville plays, does not at this juncture, but it does allow alcohol sales to be sold in skyboxes and luxury suites, where attendees pay high annual prices for the privilege.

That's also the case at the UTC's McKenzie Arena, where there is a hospitality room for donors watching Mocs' basketball games.

Unlike the SEC, a number of college sports conferences, including the Southern Conference in which UTC plays, do permit alcohol sales at games, and at least one university already does.

And thanks to a law pushed a number of years ago by local legislators, general admission fans attending UTC football games, who are the age of 21 can already consume alcohol in a non-seating plaza in the nonprofit-owned, 20,668-seat Finley Stadium located off campus.

A number of colleges have allowed alcohol sales at games in recent years. Not so much for the revenues, according to multiple news accounts, but to encourage fans to get off their couches and physically attend games. It also is seen as cutting back on over consumption of alcohol by pre-game tailgaters as well as some fans' tendency to duck out during half time and drink too much, according to news accounts.

"I don't know all the rationale about buying," Watson said of his support of Duncan Massey's bill. "But given the way the sponsor described it, I didn't have a problem."

If a college sports conference "sees fit" to allow it, "I have no problem with that," Watson said, adding he similarly sees no issue for the professional Chattanooga Lookouts, which plays at AT&T Field.

This year's bill is a follow through to a law passed last year allowing alcohol sales at Middle Tennessee State University sports facilities. The legislation designates them as a "sports authority" under existing state alcohol statutes.

The measure's House sponsor, Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, has noted interim UT System President Randy Boyd is in support of the measure and favors letting campus chancellors decide whether or not to approve alcohol sales.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.


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