What college sells the most beer at home football games? My media law class found out.
Each semester, I require students in my media law & ethics course at TCU to file public records requests under state freedom of information laws. This is usually part of a class project, where we all ask for the same kinds of records to see what we can find out about government spending or public health or school book bans or other serious matters.
This fall, we investigated another extremely serious topic: Beer.
Specifically, students from my two sections of media law & ethics made requests to 38 public universities for gross revenue from beer sales at home football games in 2022 and 2021. The goal — find out what university sold the most beer, or at least made the most money from beer, at their home stadiums.
We received 18 responses with actual records included, which is about a 47 percent success rate — not bad for college students on their first effort at FOI requests, though still ultimately disappointing that requests as simple as this were so commonly either ignored or, worse, treated with hostility.
To choose our universities, I took to the Birdsite back in September to ask my journalism/FOIA nerd friends for some recommendations. There were…a lot. We settled on largely Big 12, SEC, ACC and Big 10 programs, with a couple of West Coast teams and other Texas programs as well, especially after taking out a bunch of big-time programs that don’t sell beer at their home games (such as Georgia, Auburn, Clemson, Kentucky and Wisconsin).
So, who came out on top? Drum roll please…
Best in Show
University of Tennessee
I couldn’t be prouder of good old Rocky Top — I went to high school in Knoxville and took summer classes at UT. They just steamrolled the field, with the highest average beer sales per game in 2022 ($519,635 per game through 4 games), the second-highest behind LSU in 2021 ($348,134), and the single highest game of all that were individually reported — $696,964.35 in beer sales for the epic home win over Alabama on Oct. 15 this year, the game Alex Kirshner accurately described as “Why God Invented College Football.” They also responded promptly to the student’s FOI request with no fee demand or other nonsense. Bravo, Vols.
These are the schools that responded promptly and fully to requests, giving us some good data to work with. Ranked in order of gross sales per game in 2022:
Texas A&M: $380,345 per game in 2022, the second-highest average, and that was through 4 games before the LSU upset, which surely would have upped those numbers. A good increase on beer sales from 2021 ($349,134 per game). Biggest selling game was vs. Miami this year ($505,032).
Colorado: $291,573 average home sales per game through 3 games in 2022, up a bit from the $281,368 home sales average in 2021. Peak was $439,694 vs. Cal on Oct. 15, 2022.
Minnesota: $278,687 average home sales through 3 games in 2022, probably deflated a bit based on missing the tail end of the Big 10 schedule. Ranked third behind LSU and Tennessee for average sales in 2021 at $335,414 per game. Peak was $473,020 vs. Wisconsin in 2021.
Mississippi: $249,568 average home sales through 5 games, though they charged the student $28.87 to process the records request, despite her proper pleas for a fee waiver. (I wrote them a check and will get reimbursed by the department). Way up from an average of $176,283 per game in 2021. Peak was against Auburn this year, $409,668.
Texas Tech: $232,995 average home sales through 5 games, a huge increase compared to 2021 ($136,574 per game). Unsurprisingly, the most beer was sold in the upset over visiting Texas this year, with $338,119 in sales.
Florida: $193,484 average home sales through all 7 games this fall, a good bit up from the $104,506 per game in 2021. Props to the University Athletic Association, which gave the student records anyway, even though they pointed out that under Florida law, they are not required to do so as an exempt organization. Compare them to Florida State in the “Skunky Beer” section below.
University of North Carolina: $175,293 per game through 3 games this fall, including a peak of $274,881 when they hosted Notre Dame in September. Up from an average of $131,082 in 2021.
Oklahoma State: $167,838 in average home sales through their 7-game home schedule in 2022, up from $148,258 in 2021. No individual game numbers were provided.
Missouri: $158,680 in average home sales through 3 games this fall, including a peak of $190,683 in the home opener against Louisiana Tech. Up from an average of $117,736 per game in 2021. MIZ! (I’ve got three degrees from there so I am obligated to yell those letters whenever possible. I don’t make the rules.)
Kansas: $151,329 in average home sales through 3 games this fall, but that was before the College GameDay crowd against TCU that may have pushed numbers up a bit higher. Peak game was the week before, $200,500 vs. Iowa State. The student hasn’t provided full 2021 numbers yet for a comparison but I believe they got them.
NC State: $116,634 in average home sales through all 7 games in 2022, including a peak of $144,851 vs. Texas Tech in September. This is up from $71,713 per game in 2021.
Indiana: $107,733 in average home sales through 4 games this fall, just a minor step up from an average of $104,275 in 2021. No individual game numbers provided.
Illinois: $98,601 per game through the full home schedule of 7 games in 2022. No individual game data or 2021 numbers were provided.
Houston: $54,801 per game through the 6-game home schedule in 2022, including a peak of $101,661 when they hosted Kansas in September. Up a bit from an average of $53,852 in 2021.
Texas State: $16,693.67 per game through the 6-game schedule in 2022, down a bit from an average of $20,584 in 2021, a season that included a peak of $38,490 when they hosted Baylor.
A Bit Foamy
A couple of programs would have ranked nicely in the list above if they provided full data. But they didn’t. So here they are.
LSU would not give numbers for 2022; the student making the request was very diligent, but the paralegal from the general counsel’s office said on Nov. 1 that 2022 data was still being processed so it wasn’t available yet. They did provide data for 2021 that ranked them highest in average beer sales per game among those who responded with data for that year: $369,986 per game, including a peak of $509,717 against Auburn.
Washington also provided 2021 records only, though that may have been due to the student’s wording in the request. Nevertheless, they averaged $244,180 per game in 2021, with a peak of $335,836 against Washington State in their home finale last year. They also charged the student 15 cents for the data, which is something.
An Absence of Beer
The above 18 programs ranged from great to solid in their responses to my students who filed public records requests for something as harmless as home beer sales at college football games.
The 15 universities below basically ghosted us or have been dragging their feet on responses. Now, on some of these, the students may not have gone above and beyond on hustle to push and negotiate for access to the records. But they shouldn’t have to — nobody should have to, and that’s the point! Nevertheless, here are the schools that just weren’t responsive to my students’ requests:
And then, hoo boy, we’ve got the programs that went a step beyond neglect into just making things difficult for us. Those of us in the FOIA and transparency community know about this kind of thing all too well, and I wish it weren’t the kind of thing my journalism students had to learn about firsthand.
But learn they did. Here are the universities that had to go out of their way to deny access to (checks notes again) stadium beer sales numbers.
Alabama: The absolute worst. First, they auto-denied my student’s request because she wasn’t an Alabama resident. Which they can do, no thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2013 in McBurney v. Young, where they said access to government records are not fundamental rights and thus states can discriminate against out-of-state residents.
So I turned to my friend Will Nevin, an attorney and professor at Alabama A&M, who kindly agreed to file the FOI request on behalf of my student. Alabama responded by saying — get this — that they had no records responsive to the request.
The University of Alabama. Which began selling beer at home football games in 2022. Said they have no records of revenues for those beer sales.
I hope the CFP Committee took your hostility to harmless FOI requests into consideration in denying your football program a spot in the playoffs. And I encourage you to look at the top of this list and see how your pals up in Knoxville are doing.
Virginia Tech: Also denied the student’s request because she wasn’t a Virginia state resident. I had no luck finding a friend to file the request for her, so that student got another school.
Florida State: Like Florida, they farm these records out to an athletic foundation to dodge state FOI laws — in this case, the Seminole Boosters. Unlike Florida, they declined to make an effort to release any useful information.
Mississippi State: Like Mississippi, they also demanded payment for those records ($34.61, to be exact), and they declined the student’s request for a fee waiver. Unlike Mississippi, they got the check in November and never sent the records. They also never cashed the check. Nor have they responded to follow-up efforts by the student over the past few weeks.
Oregon: I’ll just let the student detail his experience seeking records here, which anyone who’s ever asked for a public record will probably recognize as typical:
“I was contacting the University’s Director of Food and Beverage Services, after nine emails, he finally sent a response back! But — he just directed me to a special place where I can request public records from the university. While the link he sent isn’t publicly posted, meaning I did kind of get somewhere by constantly nagging him, it’s frustrating it took him nine whole emails just to share some simple, silly little link. Could’ve saved me a lot of time, and stress, if he had just responded immediately…
“Still, when I looked for a public records email on the University of Oregon website, I couldn’t find it, and it wasn’t clear if they had one. The link to the email was conveniently hidden under a couple different ‘dropboxes’ and clicks, which may have been strategic so that they aren’t constantly flooded with requests. Anyways, I then sent my request letter to the Public Records email he sent me to, and after a couple days they got back to me with a frustrating message. They said that the entire staff would be away for a conference, and that they’d respond to my request when they’re back on 12/9.”
We’re still waiting…