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USC Bans Beer at Games

University President Sample makes the decision to cut down on the unruly behavior of fans at the Coliseum.

June 02, 2005|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

The sale and possession of alcoholic beverages inside the Coliseum will no longer be allowed at USC home football games, USC President Steven Sample said Wednesday, citing increasing surliness, foul language and other behavior by fans that he said was harming the game-day atmosphere.

"We're going to get tough," Sample said in an interview.

USC, which set attendance records the last two seasons, was the only Pacific 10 Conference school -- and one of only a few nationally -- that allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages inside the stadium at home games. Several Pac-10 schools allow alcohol to be sold in buildings near their stadiums.

Beer is sold inside the Rose Bowl at the Rose Bowl game, but not at UCLA games, according to Darryl Dunn, general manager of the stadium.

Sample outlined the reasons for his decision in a letter that was sent to about 10,000 USC supporters. In the letter, Sample said that to make the Coliseum "more family-friendly" the school and the Coliseum Commission, which operates the historic venue, "have agreed to end the sale of alcohol inside the Coliseum."

Bernard C. Parks, a Los Angeles city councilman and a member of the Coliseum Commission, said the commission is not opposed to the plan, under one condition, "that the Coliseum be made whole as it relates to the revenue loss."

USC and the Coliseum share net concessions revenue, Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum, said in an interview. The ban on alcoholic beverage sales -- a cup of beer cost $5.50 last season, according to Lynch -- is expected to cost the two entities hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We don't know what the total impact will be until we go a total season without it," Lynch said. "We don't know how many people are going to buy a soda or water instead."

Asked whether prices on other items would increase to make up for the shortfall, Lynch said, "We're going to look at everything."

Chris Bigelow, a food-service consultant who has worked with stadiums and arenas throughout the nation, said there was no replacement for lost beer sales. "Upward of 30% or 40% of sales could easily be in beer," he said.

Bigelow also said prohibiting alcohol sales inside the stadium would not necessarily curb untoward fan behavior.

"They might think, 'Since we can't get a beer in the stadium, we'll have a few more in the parking lot,' " Bigelow said. "It doesn't eliminate a lot of the security problems. Sometimes it can create more security issues."

Mike Garrett, USC's athletic director, said that although it was difficult to take the financial hit, the decision to ban alcohol was the right the move. "For the welfare of our spectators and fans, it's worth it," he said.

In his letter, Sample wrote: "Any fan who possesses alcohol inside the stadium, who acts in a drunken or disorderly way, or who uses threatening or obscene language, will be evicted from the Coliseum and will permanently lose the privilege of buying tickets to our home football games."

A "Trojan Spirit Code" was included in the mailing. That code and the letter were also included in a USC publication with a circulation of about 190,000, Sample said.

The school president wrote that the spirit code was developed "because of the noticeable rise in recent years of incidents involving the use of alcohol. Longtime attendees at our games have witnessed an escalation in the rude behavior of fans, rudeness that is almost always exacerbated by alcohol consumption."

Sample noted that the deterioration in fan behavior was a nationwide trend, "not a USC phenomenon."

But he wrote that he had "received dozens of letters from irate Trojans who say they can't and they won't take their families to USC games anymore because drunken fans create a hostile and frightening environment.

"Only a small number of fans -- many of them USC students, and some of them even USC alumni -- cause trouble at our games. Moreover, alcohol is almost always involved whenever a few fans begin to engage in obnoxious or threatening behavior."

On Wednesday, Sample said the reaction to his decision has "overwhelmingly been positive."

He said his decision to end alcohol sales at USC home games has been building over the years and was made without input from the NCAA. He said he was especially put off by behavior he witnessed while strolling the concourse between the stadium gates and the tunnel entrances.

"People were coming to make this a beer party rather than drinking some beer while watching the game," said Sample, who added, "We want to make our games family-friendly."

Sample said he recalled his experience at a Los Angeles Raider game when the NFL team played at the Coliseum.

"It was almost impossible to avoid a fistfight," he said. "No matter how docile you were, you couldn't bring your daughter, your wife, your mother-in-law. I don't want that for USC."

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