The Impact of Alcohol Sales in A College Football Stadium on Healthcare Utilization
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Impact of Alcohol Sales in A College Football Stadium on Healthcare Utilization


Introduction: In 2021, a large Midwestern university began selling alcohol to spectators within the football stadium for the first time. The stadium routinely hosts >65,000 spectators, and drinking alcohol is highly prevalent at pre-game tailgating events. Our goal in this study was to determine the impact of in-stadium alcohol sales on the incidence of alcohol-related emergency department (ED) visits and local emergency medical services (EMS) calls. We hypothesized that the availability of alcohol throughout the stadium would lead to an increase in alcohol-related patient presentations.

Methods: This was a retrospective study including patients who used local EMS and presented to the ED on football Saturdays in the 2019 and 2021 seasons. There were 11 Saturday games with seven home games each year. The 2020 season was excluded due to the impact of COVID-19- related restrictions on attendance. Trained extractors using predefined criteria reviewed records for each patient to determine whether the visit was alcohol related. Using logistic regression analysis we examined the odds of an EMS call and ED visit being alcohol-related before and after the start of stadium alcohol sales. We compared characteristics of visits before and after the onset of stadium alcohol sales using Student’s t-test for continuous variables and chi-square test for categorical variables.

Results: In 2021, after the onset of in-stadium alcohol sales, there were a total of 505 emergency calls to local EMS on football Saturdays (home and away), and 29% of them were for alcohol-related incidents down from 36% of 456 calls in 2019. After adjustment for covariates, the odds of a call being alcohol-related were lower in 2021 than 2019, but this difference was not significant (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.83, 95% CI 0.48-1.42). Looking specifically at the seven home games each season, the difference was more pronounced (31% of calls in 2021 compared to 40% in 2019) but not statistically significant after adjustment for covariates (aOR 0.54, 95% CI 0.15-2.03). In the ED, 1,414 patients were evaluated on game days in 2021 and 8% of them for alcohol-related reasons. This is similar to 2019, when 9% of the 1,538 patients presented due to alcohol-related complaints. After adjustment for covariates, the odds of an ED visit being alcohol-related were similar in 2021 and 2019 (aOR 0.98, 95% CI 0.70-1.38).

Consclusion: There was a decrease in alcohol-related EMS calls on home game days in 2021, although the result was not statistically significant. In-stadium alcohol sales had no significant impact on the frequency or proportion of alcohol-related ED visits. The reason for this outcome is unclear, but it is possible that fans drank less at tailgate parties knowing they could consume more once the game started. Long lines and a two-beverage limit at stadium concessions may have kept patrons from consuming excessively. The results of this study may inform similar institutions regarding the safe implementation of alcohol sales during mass-gathering events.

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