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Public Health Rep. 2010 Sep-Oct; 125(5): 665–673.
PMCID: PMC2925002

Alcohol Control Policies and Practices at Professional Sports Stadiums



Alcohol-related problems such as assaults and drinking-driving at or near professional sporting events are commonly reported in the media. An important strategy to reduce such problems may be the use of alcohol control policies at sports stadiums. The objective of this study was to examine alcohol control policies and practices at professional sports stadiums in the U.S.


We conducted a telephone survey of food/beverage managers from 66 of the 100 U.S professional sports stadiums that house a professional hockey, basketball, baseball, and/or football team. The survey consisted of 18 items pertaining to policies regulating alcohol sales and consumption.


Most managers indicated that their stadium had a range of alcohol control policies and practices. For example, all or nearly all reported their stadium allows no more than two alcoholic beverages per sale and their alcohol servers are required to check age identification of patrons who appear younger than age 30. In contrast, only about half prohibit servers younger than 21 years of age from selling alcohol both in seating areas and at concession booths, and approximately one-third designate sections of their stadiums as alcohol-free.


Although we found that some alcohol control policies appear to be common across stadiums, others are uncommon, leaving room for potential areas of improvement in reducing or preventing alcohol-related problems at professional sporting events. The results provide an important starting point for identifying policies that can be evaluated to determine their effectiveness in reducing alcohol-related injuries and deaths at sporting events.

Alcohol-related problems such as assaults and drinking-driving at or near professional sporting events are commonly reported in the U.S. media,1,2 and several of these incidents have resulted in lawsuits targeting stadium alcohol vendors.3,4 Alcohol consumption is often a focal point of sporting events, with alcohol heavily advertised within sports stadiums and sold at concession booths as well as in the seating areas. However, few research studies have systematically identified potential factors that contribute to alcohol-related problems at stadiums or assessed policies and practices related to alcohol control across professional sports stadiums.

Two previous studies assessed alcohol-related problems at professional sports stadiums outside the U.S. Vingilis and colleagues5 found that a higher proportion of alcohol-related traffic crashes occurred in Toronto following games at a professional sports stadium compared with pregame periods and compared with the same time period on non-game days. Scottish researchers evaluated reports from stadium doctors for the 26-game 1999–2000 season of the Glasgow Celtic football club in regard to alcohol involvement. They found that even though alcohol was not for sale at the stadium and intoxicated people were prohibited from entering the stadium, one in four of the 127 clinical presentations was alcohol related.6

Two very recent studies have assessed alcohol-related enforcement and alcohol sales at professional sports stadiums in the U.S. Lenk and associates7 surveyed local law enforcement and alcoholic beverage control agencies that have professional football, basketball, hockey, and/or baseball stadiums within their jurisdiction. They found that the majority of enforcement agencies commonly received complaints about fights occurring either inside or outside stadiums, property damage at or near the stadiums, and/or intoxicated patrons at the stadiums, but only about half of the agencies conducted alcohol enforcement actions at the stadiums. In a related study, Toomey et al.8 assessed the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales to underage and obviously intoxicated patrons at professional sports stadiums. They found that young-appearing patrons were able to purchase alcohol without age identification in nearly one out of every five attempts, and patrons who appeared intoxicated were able to purchase alcohol in approximately three out of four attempts. Illegal purchase attempts were more likely to be successful in the seating areas vs. concession booths.

Media reports suggest that some professional sports stadiums are implementing new alcohol policies in response to numerous alcohol-related problems. For example, during football games at Soldier Field in Chicago, vendors in the seating areas are allowed to sell only one beer per purchase to a patron, and beer sales at the concession booths are discontinued five minutes into the third quarter (sales previously ended near the end of the third quarter.9 At Giants Stadium in New Jersey, officials banned all alcohol sales at a Monday Night Football game between two rival teams,10 and at the Chargers Stadium in San Diego, mandatory checking of age identification is now required for beer sales at concession booths.11 Similarly, the National Basketball Association instituted (1) a ban on all alcohol sales at the start of the fourth quarter at all arenas, (2) limits on size of drinks to 24 ounces, and (3) limits of two drinks per purchase.

In the current study, we assessed the prevalence of alcohol control policies and practices at professional sports stadiums in the U.S. Our findings provide a first step toward understanding efforts to control and reduce alcohol-related problems in professional sports stadiums by describing the alcohol control policies and practices currently in place in sports stadiums in the U.S.


We conducted a telephone survey in 2006 of food/beverage managers of professional sports stadiums across the U.S., asking about their current alcohol-related policies and practices.


For each of the 100 professional sports stadiums in the U.S. that houses a team in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and/or National Football League (as of 2006), we identified the manager in charge of food/beverage service through stadium websites and telephone calls to stadiums. We attempted to contact one manager from each eligible stadium (n=96); we did not attempt to survey managers at four stadiums that were not holding sporting events in 2006—New Orleans Arena and the Louisiana Superdome in Louisiana, Charlotte Coliseum in North Carolina, and Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona. Stadiums in New Orleans did not operate in 2006 due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Trained research staff completed up to 20 telephone calls per stadium to attempt to reach each food/beverage manager. We were able to reach food/beverage managers of 75 stadiums, and 66 of those we reached agreed to participate in the survey. In two cases, the manager was in charge of food/beverage policies at two different sports stadiums; these respondents provided information about relevant policies and practices at each stadium. Similarly, because nine of the stadiums house more than one professional team, we asked managers at these stadiums to provide information for all of the professional teams at their stadiums. Finally, for 11 stadiums, the food/beverage managers at individual stadiums referred us to the corporate office of the food/beverage company. In one such case, the manager in the corporate office provided information on policies and practices for three individual stadiums; in the other cases, we were either unable to reach the corporate manager (n=6) or the corporate manager refused to participate (n=2).

Of the 66 stadiums in which a food/beverage manager completed the survey, 91% of the respondents were employed by a food/beverage vendor (vs. the sports team or stadium) and 71% had been employed at the stadium for more than five years.


Trained research staff conducted the telephone survey following a standardized protocol. The survey contained 18 items and took approximately 10 minutes to complete. Six items pertained to alcohol licensing and policy development in the stadium (e.g., who is licensed to sell alcohol in the stadium and whether they have formal and written policies) (Table 1). Twelve survey items pertained to specific alcohol control policies and practices (e.g., alcohol-free sections and limits on number of servings per person per sale) (Table 2). We developed the survey instruments based on a list of alcohol control policies and practices that have been suggested for licensed alcohol establishments and community festivals and that are relevant for stadiums.12,13 We pilot tested the survey with a small stadium that houses a semiprofessional baseball team. Immediately following each interview, we scanned completed surveys directly into an electronic database.

Table 1.
Alcohol licensing and policy development at sports stadiums in the U.S., 2006 (n=66)
Table 2.
Prevalence of training and alcohol control policies and practices in sports stadiums in the U.S., 2006 (n=66)

Secondary data

In addition to the telephone survey, we collected data from several secondary sources. We obtained yearly stadium attendance and number/types of teams at stadiums from the ESPN website (, geographic regions from the U.S. Census (, and rates of adult binge drinking (at least five drinks in one sitting in past two weeks) in each state during 2003–2004 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health ( All data collection methods were approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Minnesota.


We constructed variables for each of the 18 survey items as listed in Tables 1 and and2.2. We dichotomized each of the responses to the 12 policy and practice variables (1 = policy/practice in place, 0 = policy/practice not in place) (Table 2). We also created an index of the 12 policy/practice variables, summing responses (possible score: 0–12), and then collapsed this index score into three levels of policy implementation based on the frequency distribution: low = 0–8, medium = 9–10, high = 11–12. In addition, we constructed variables from our secondary data sources: (1) state adult binge drinking rates (low = <23%, medium = 23%–25%, high = >25%); (2) type of sport(s) at stadium (four dichotomous variables: basketball, baseball, hockey, and football); (3) number of teams at stadium (one vs. two or three); (4) total yearly attendance at stadium (≤1 million vs. >1 million); and (5) region of country where stadium/state is located (Northeast, West, South, or Midwest).

We also used one variable from a survey of local law enforcement agencies that we conducted in another study7—the variable pertains to whether the agencies received complaints about six different possible types of incidents at or near professional sports stadiums that were either likely or certainly alcohol-related (six types of incidents: tailgating, fights inside the stadium, fights outside the stadium, intoxicated patrons, property damage, and “other”). We created a “complaints index” for each stadium, summing the types of incidents an agency received complaints about for that particular stadium in the last two years (possible score: 0–6).


We calculated descriptive statistics for each of the variables constructed from the manager survey. In addition, we conducted bivariate analyses (p<0.05) to assess whether specified stadium characteristics, type of sport, state drinking rates, and geographic region of the country were related to the likelihood of having specific alcohol control policies and practices, as well as to the policy index score. We did not conduct multivariate analyses because of the limited variability across most of the policy variables. All analyses were conducted using SAS® version 9.1.14


Each of the stadiums we surveyed sold alcohol, with most (89%) serving beer, wine, and spirits. In the majority of stadiums (73%), only one entity was licensed to sell alcohol, and in most cases this was a food/beverage vendor. In some stadiums, a caterer, the sports team, or the stadium itself was licensed to sell alcohol (Table 1).

All but one of the stadiums surveyed had formal alcohol policies, and all of these stadiums reported that their policies were documented in a written format. We also found that a variety of entities set the alcohol policies in the stadiums, with the majority of stadiums having at least two different entities participate in setting policy (Table 1, Figure). The food/beverage service managers (47%) and stadium managers (42%) were most commonly involved in setting policies. Most food/beverage service managers (68%) communicated their alcohol policies to the employees at the time they were hired, with periodic follow-up at staff meetings and/or trainings. The rest communicated the policies on a less regular basis (Table 1).

Entities that set alcohol policies at U.S. sports stadiums, 2006 (n=66)

Overall, the stadiums reported that they engage in responsible server training practices (Table 2). All but one of the stadiums reported that they require both servers and food/beverage service managers to attend responsible alcohol service training. However, only 34% of the stadiums covered alcohol policy development procedures as part of their manager training. Approximately 90% of the stadiums hold staff meetings at least monthly and cover four recommended topics (alcohol policies, problems related to checking age identification, refusing alcohol service to underage patrons, and denying alcohol service to intoxicated patrons) at these meetings.

In addition to general server training practices, most stadium food/beverage managers indicated that they had established a wide range of alcohol control policies and practices (Table 2). All or nearly all of the stadiums reported that their alcohol servers are required to (1) check age identification of those who appear younger than age 30 (or an older age), (2) use cups for alcoholic beverages that are different from cups used for nonalcoholic beverages, and (3) limit the number of beverages per sale to no more than two. Approximately half of the stadiums prohibit servers younger than age 21 from selling alcohol both in seating areas and at booths (54% prohibit underage staff from serving in booths; 65% prohibit underage staff from serving in seating areas), and approximately two-thirds prohibit intoxicated people from entering the stadium. In contrast, more than one-third (39%) designate sections of their stadiums as alcohol-free on some or all occasions. Out of a possible score of 12 on the policy index, most stadiums had a score of 9.0 or higher, with a mean of 9.5.

From our bivariate analyses, we identified few factors associated with the likelihood of implementing alcohol control policies/practices (Table 3); only policies/practices that had significant relationships (p<0.05) with one or more independent variables are shown. Professional football stadiums (vs. non-football stadiums) were more likely to report having alcohol-free sections, and were more likely to have a high score on the policy index. Stadiums located in the Northeast were more likely than those in other regions to have alcohol-free seating sections. Stadiums located in states with high (vs. low or medium) binge drinking rates were more likely to have a more restrictive policy regulating age of servers, and stadiums with greater yearly attendance were less likely to prohibit intoxicated people from entering the stadium. Finally, stadiums housing more than one team were less likely than those housing only one team to prohibit intoxicated people from entering the stadium.

Table 3.
Bivariate results: stadium policies vs. independent variables in a 2006 study of alcohol control policies at U.S. sports stadiums


For most of the 12 alcohol control policies/practices included on our survey, the majority of the managers reported having the policies or practices in place. Nearly all or all of the stadiums reported having seven of the 12 alcohol control policies/practices—requiring servers and food/beverage service managers to attend training, holding staff meetings at least monthly, checking the age identification of individuals who appear younger than age 30, restricting the number of alcoholic beverages per person per sale to two, having distinguishable cups for alcoholic beverages, and having a food/beverage manager on duty at all times. However, only 54% prohibit underage staff from serving alcohol in booths, and only 65% prohibit underage employees from serving alcohol in the seating areas. This is a concern because some studies have found that servers who appear younger-looking are more likely to serve alcohol to underage customers.15,16 Underage servers may need more monitoring and supervision than older, more experienced alcohol servers and may be more susceptible to selling alcohol to underage patrons. However, a high level of supervision may not be possible at sports stadiums—especially in the seating areas. This is one possible reason why in our study of illegal alcohol sales at professional sports stadiums,8 we found that the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales is higher in the seating areas than at stadium booths.

Two other recommended alcohol control policies that may reduce problems at stadiums were less common—offering alcohol-free sections and prohibiting intoxicated patrons from entering the stadium. Offering alcohol-free sections may help create a family-friendly environment and decrease the number of intoxicated people at sporting events. Prohibiting intoxicated patrons from entering may decrease the number of intoxicated patrons as well as help control heavy alcohol use at pregame tailgating events.

Although managers reported having many alcohol control policies in place, only 34% of the respondents indicated that their management training included policy development. This represents an important area for future interventions and research. Although few training programs exist for alcohol servers and managers, prior research suggests intensive manager training programs that focus on alcohol control policy development and implementation have produced initial reductions in alcohol sales to individuals who appeared intoxicated at licensed alcohol establishments.12 These programs could be easily adapted for stadium food/beverage service managers, given that the programs are designed to be tailored to each establishment and cover development and implementation of policies. Development of all alcohol policies should factor in the unique aspects of individual stadiums, type of sport, and local and states laws. Policy interventions that are tailored to the needs of individual alcohol establishments and communities have been successful in addressing alcohol policies and alcohol-related problems,12,17,18 and hold promise for reducing alcohol-related problems at sports stadiums.

Despite the lack of training on policy development for managers, all but one of the managers indicated that their stadiums had formal, written alcohol control policies. One explanation for this is that for most of the stadiums, the managers in charge of food and alcohol are not the only entities responsible for developing alcohol control policies. Nearly 75% of the stadiums have more than one entity setting alcohol control policies, and in fewer than half of the stadiums, the food/beverage manager sets policies. This also explains, in part, the low prevalence of policy development training among food/beverage service managers—many of the managers may have little authority to actually develop their stadium policies; hence, this training may not be as applicable. The overall stadium manager sets alcohol control policies in more than 40% of the stadiums. At nearly one-third of the stadiums, the respondent reported that the sports league, caterer, or a vendor may also set alcohol control policies. States and cities may also set alcohol control policies that affect all stadiums within their jurisdictions (e.g., requiring responsible beverage service training for all entities holding an alcohol license or prohibiting any person younger than age 21 from serving/selling alcohol). These results suggest that there are multiple intervention points for influencing alcohol control policies at professional sports stadiums. However, this may also present a challenge for influencing a wide range of policies if each entity is responsible for implementing and enforcing different policies (e.g., the stadiums set policies on whether intoxicated patrons can enter a stadium, and vendors control the type of server training that is mandated), possibly requiring separate training programs for each entity.

Although we identified few factors associated with a likelihood of implementing alcohol control policies/practices at stadiums, some of these results may be useful for stadium policy makers. Stadiums housing football teams appear to have more alcohol control policies than those housing other sports—baseball, basketball, and hockey stadiums could perhaps look to football stadium policies to expand their own alcohol policies. This recommendation should be taken with caution, however, because it is possible that other factors are contributing to the difference in response from football vs. other stadiums (e.g., greater social desirability among football stadium managers). Stadiums located in regions outside the Northeastern U.S. may need to consider offering alcohol-free seating sections, as stadiums in the Northeast region were more likely than those in other regions to have alcohol-free sections. Similarly, stadiums located in states with low or medium (vs. high) binge drinking rates may need to adopt more restrictive policies regulating age of servers. Finally, stadiums with high yearly attendance and those housing more than one team may need to adopt policies for prohibiting intoxicated people from entering their stadiums.


This study was subject to several limitations. One limitation of this study was that we relied on the self-report of the stadium food/beverage service managers. Managers may have reported alcohol control policies due to socially desirable response bias. However, for a few of the policies, fewer than 60% of managers reported having the policy, suggesting that this type of response bias may not be a significant threat. To reduce this bias in future studies, researchers could request copies of the written alcohol policies from each respondent—this could potentially help validate managers' responses. Also, the many publicized alcohol-related problems associated with sports stadiums in recent years may have increased pressure on stadium managers, vendors, caterers, and leagues to attempt to control alcohol sales and use at sporting events, resulting in greater attention to and implementation of alcohol control policies.

Although many alcohol control policies may actually be in place in the majority of stadiums, these policies are only likely to be effective if they are actively enforced. In a separate study at a subset of these stadiums, we observed a high likelihood of illegal alcohol sales and problems, which suggests that either the policies are not actually in place, are not being enforced, or are not effective.8 Future studies should assess the degree of enforcement of these policies and whether enforcement is effective in preventing illegal alcohol sales or related problems in sports stadiums.

Another limitation of this study was that due to survey nonresponse, not all of the stadiums were represented in our survey. It is possible that the stadiums that did not participate are less likely to have alcohol control policies in place.


This is the first study to systematically assess alcohol control policies and practices at professional sports stadiums. The need to conduct systematic studies of alcohol-related issues at professional sports stadiums, is high. Alcohol is readily available at sporting events, and these events are common throughout the year. Due to the high level of alcohol sales and consumption at these events, there is significant risk for alcohol to contribute to unnecessary morbidity and mortality associated with these events. This study provides a first step in documenting policy interventions that can be evaluated to determine their effectiveness in reducing unnecessary injuries and deaths related to alcohol use at sporting events.


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