Ole Miss is a school that takes great pride in its game day experience, for good reason. The Grove on campus and the downtown Square attracts a flood of tourists from across the country every fall.
The problem is that the same elements that make the Ole Miss fan experience so unique are ultimately detrimental to that already-tough fight to get fans to buy tickets, leave the Grove, go into the game and stay.
Ole Miss made several adjustments this summer to improve fan experience, including additional ticket bundle options and student party decks, but all of it is inconsequential as the school has yet to make the obvious move that could be a major part of a solution to the problem almost every program is facing.
The SEC lifted its three-decade ban on stadium-wide alcohol sales over three months ago. Since then, LSU, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Tennessee have announced they’ll sell beer and wine in stadium. Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina will not sell alcohol during this season. Ole Miss is among the few schools yet to make an official move in any direction regarding the 2019 football season.
Southern Miss revealed last week that they’ll start selling alcohol in the stadium, prompting Ole Miss fans to take a look at their watches and wonder exactly what’s taking so long.
It’s no question that anything Ole Miss does, positive or negative, is immediately compared to Mississippi State and vice versa. So when, of all schools, Southern Miss proved to be the most proactive and enterprising university in the state, the bubble of tension had to burst.
Three months ago, many said that there was still a lot of red tape to navigate due to the state law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on college campuses in Mississippi. M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg holds a “resort” status, which is a possible exemption allowing alcohol sales. While Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville does not have the resort status, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium does.
It’s safe to say that if Southern Miss were able to carve out a way around the state law for the 2019 season, Ole Miss should be able to do the same, especially considering Former Athletic Director Ross Bjork’s early work in support of alcohol sales when he was in Oxford. Notice Bjork’s new school in College Station was the first to announce their plans to sell this summer.
The delay in decision-making from Ole Miss suggests there is a divide within the university on this issue that shouldn’t be an issue.
Alcohol in the stadium should have been a slam dunk for the athletics department. Not only do you add another revenue stream, you also keep fans and boosters happy, potentially increasing ticket sales and keeping people in the stands during games.
Ole Miss has gone to the store and picked up all the seasoning and ingredients to make a great burger, but got home and realized they forgot the beef. Why go to a party deck where you can’t party? Why toast in the sun when you can chill in the Grove with a cold beer and cold chicken tenders? Why stay in the student section when you can beat the cover at your favorite watering hole on the Square?
Due to the indecision from the university, it looks as if beer and wine will not be flowing in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium until late this season, if at all in 2019. A dry Pavilion or Swayze Field this spring would make this even more interesting as Ole Miss would be continuing to leave money on the table with the rest of the league working to get it done.
Southern Miss’s proactivity last week highlighted Ole Miss’s fumbling of this easy solution, revealing a desperate need for strong, permanent leadership in Oxford.