North Dakota State University football fans who traveled to the East Coast to see the Bison defeat Delaware last weekend happily took advantage of the beer being sold at the concession stands of Delaware Stadium, if the eyeball test of one Fargo columnist can be trusted. The ability to do the horns-up sign was sacrificed in favor of two-fisting plastic keg cups in some cases.
Alcohol sales at college football and basketball games is becoming more common, even at the Football Championship Subdivision level at which the Bison compete. Just this year, schools familiar to NDSU backers have jumped into the beer-selling fray at their games. James Madison, Illinois State and Northern Iowa are slinging suds at their football games to anybody of legal age who wants it. North Dakota and Youngstown State also sell beer at their football games. Other Bison opponents like South Dakota and Indiana State make beer available in restricted areas of their stadiums.
What was once taboo is becoming the norm.
So this might surprise you, given Fargo's deserved reputation as a place whose residents have an affinity for alcohol: Don't expect beer at the Fargodome during Bison games anytime soon.
That's the word from the powers-that-be this week, when asked if NDSU and the dome were going to follow their peers down Budweiser Lane.
"We've had brief discussions about it every year for the past several years, but most of our conversations recently are about logistics and space availability inside the dome so that if alcohol sales ever do become a reality during Bison games, the experience can be a positive one for fans," said Fargodome general manager Rob Sobolik.
That's a very kind way of saying the concourses in the dome are far too narrow to accommodate thousands of football fans leaving their seats at the end of a quarter or at halftime to buy beers or use the restroom or pick up a slice of pizza.
The Fargo Dome Authority has been talking about changes its members would like to see in the building, which opened in 1992. Expanded concourses, bathrooms, seating and entrances are all likely possibilities. Plans are on hold as dome officials work with advisers to hammer out financing options for the project, which could cost as much as $50 million.
It sounds like any alcohol sales at Bison games wouldn't happen until after the dome remodel is complete, whenever that day might be.
Pre-game tailgating, post-game bar-hopping and in-game flask-sneaking will have to do for now.
"More recently our discussions have not been about alcohol sales specifically, but more about creating spaces in the concourse so when that day comes when we do sell beer at games, the fan experience is a better experience," said Troy Goergen, president of the dome authority who also works in the athletic department at NDSU. "The discussions have centered more around what improvements can be made to the dome as a whole, and a subset of that has been what benefit would come from having wider concourses or areas where people could stand in line and not clog the concourse."
Beer and other alcohol is regularly sold at the dome for other events like concerts and trade shows. Talk of selling beer during Bison games at the city-owned facility has arisen periodically, but it's never gained much traction. The dome authority, Fargo city commissioners who oversee the board, and NDSU officials nearly lifted the ban in 2015 when they agreed to sell beer in suites and in a beer garden open to all fans. But the authority reversed course a month later due to concerns about the cost and safety of an indoor beer tent.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said his department has had conversations about beer sales in both the dome and the school's on-campus basketball arena, the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, but hasn't pushed the topic. He agreed dome renovations might have to come before beer sales are approved.
"More and more colleges and universities are going to alcohol sales at their sporting events, so it is something you have to look at," he said. "From our standpoint, our discussions are more about how we can enhance the game-day experience, whether it's in-game promotions or contests or something like alcohol sales."
James Madison, a top-ranked FCS program in Harrisonburg, Va., opened beer sales to the general seating areas of its football stadium this season. During its home opener earlier this month, the school reported selling 5,200 beers for a total of $37,000 in revenue. Alcohol sales stop at the end of the third quarter. The school offers Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite in 16-ounce cans for $7 or a selection of craft beers for $8 each. Offerings might be expanded, depending on sales.
The announced attendance for James Madison's first game was 22,422. NDSU averaged 18,106 fans for 10 home dates in 2018, so beer sales might be similar for a Bison game.
"That's not a huge revenue number. There's not as much money in it as people think," Sobolik said. "You have to weigh that with the challenges that come with it."
Beer in the dome during Bison games will come. It just might not come as quickly as some fans would like.