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Nebraska regents approve sale of alcohol at Husker basketball games

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Nebraska athletics is set to sign a massive multimedia rights deal, start serving alcohol at PBA and begin the conversation of overhauling Memorial Stadium.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents on Friday signed off on a plan to allow for the sale of beer, wine and liquor at Husker men’s and women’s basketball games beginning this season.

The board, which met at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, approved the change on a 7-0 vote. Omaha Regent Barb Weitz was absent from Friday’s meeting.

Under terms of the pilot project, which lasts through the 2023-24 season, 90% of the net revenue from alcohol sales would go to the city, which manages Pinnacle Bank Arena through ASM Global, the firm it hired.

The city holds the liquor license for the arena, as well as a $10 million alcohol liability insurance policy, and is responsible for choosing what concessions are sold — including alcoholic drinks.

Last week, Husker Athletic Director Trev Alberts said UNL expects that its 10% share of the net revenue will generate roughly $100,000 this year.

Although opening the taps for basketball games won’t be a major revenue driver, Alberts said the athletic department views allowing Husker fans to enjoy an alcoholic beverage as an amenity.

Opening up alcohol sales for future Husker events comes after the regents, in February, lifted a 1999 university policy prohibiting the sale of beer, wine and other liquor at Husker events.

It also follows what university administrators say was a successful test balloon in March at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships, where beer sales at Pinnacle Bank Arena took place without any incidents.

Lincoln Regent Tim Clare, who represents NU on the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency that governs the arena, said the agreement is “a test run to see how it works.”

“With opportunities come responsibilities and accountability, not only to ourselves but to other patrons who are at the game,” Clare said. “From there, if it does work, then maybe we’ll continue it beyond the two years.”

For now, beer will flow only at Pinnacle Bank Arena. There is no change to policies at Memorial Stadium, Haymarket Park or the Devaney Sports Center.

Regents Rob Schafer of Beatrice and Jim Pillen of Columbus noted that alcohol is currently sold at University of Nebraska at Omaha games and that no problems have been reported.

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“At the end of the day, it allows us to treat adults like adults,” Schafer said.

The Lincoln City Council will hold a hearing at its Monday meeting on a proposed ordinance amending its agreement with UNL to allow beer sales.

Regents also approved a $301 million, 15-year multimedia rights deal between the Nebraska athletic department and PlayFly Sports for broadcasting rights for Husker sports.

The deal, which guarantees the athletic department $273.6 million, includes a “look in” provision during the ninth year.

UNL will see annual payments of $18.2 million, and by signing the contract will receive a $7.5 million signing bonus to be paid over several installments.

The contract also provides the athletic department $6 million for capital investments, and puts $2.25 million in a name, image and likeness fund for brand scholarships for Husker athletes, or to pay them for their appearances on NU-related shows.

In a briefing with reporters last week, Alberts said he believed the deal, which was negotiated over much of this year, was likely “one of the most lucrative” multimedia rights contracts in the country.

“We’ll be benefiting from this because of our fan base,” Alberts said.

Before it moved its multimedia operations in-house for 15 months, Nebraska had a contract with Learfield/IMG that paid the university $12 million annually.

After Alberts took over leadership of Husker Athletics last year, the university began talks with three separate companies about once again contracting for broadcast rights, and appeared ready to pursue a 12-year, $215 million deal with JMI Sports.

That deal, which would have paid $16.7 million annually and included $25 million in add-ons, ultimately fell through, leading NU to secure an agreement with PlayFly Sports.

Pillen said he felt moving the Huskers’ multimedia operations in house in 2019 “made a lot of sense.”

“I personally struggle with not having it in house,” Pillen said, but added the ability to “more fully engage with Nebraskans all across the planet” helped bring him around to the idea.

Omaha Regent Jack Stark also said he was concerned by the length of the contract, but ultimately supported the item with the rest of the board.

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