Self-Serve Beer Is No All-Star Game Solution

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Two of the five games ever forfeited in Major League Baseball history were the result of drunken fans. This isn't the league for self-serve beer.

But why let history get in the way of a dollar? At this year's baseball All-Star Game in Minnesota, fans at Target (TGT) Field are going to be able to dispense their own beer through the help of a machine called DraftServ. The brainchild of concessionaire Delaware North and brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD). The theory is that fans who show valid identification will be able to preload cards of $10 to $50, scan them at various machines and regulate how much they want to pour.

Oh, and it allows customers to pour up to 48 ounces of beer every 15 minutes.

There are just a few things wrong with this equation before we even get to the borderline teetotaling arguments. For one, Delaware North and Anheuser-Busch InBev plan to charge folks buying Budweiser and Bud Light 38 cents an ounce for the privilege. That's not only above the league average of 37 cents per ounce calculated by Team Marketing Report, but it's more than the same 37 cents an ounce that Minnesota Twins fans regularly pay for a beer at Target Field.

If those same fans choose an A-B InBev-brewed Shock Top Lemon Shandy or Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale -- which A-B considers "craft" offerings -- those will cost 40 cents per ounce. That would place them among the highest-priced beers in the league.

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But none of that should be a huge surprise. This is one of baseball's premier events and fans in attendance should expect premium prices as a result. The bigger problem is that pour rate. Even if a fan drank only those 48 ounces in an hour, that would put a 140-pound fan's blood alcohol content at .088 -- or over Minnesota's legal limit for driving. Bump that up to two in an hour, and even a 240-pound individual will blow a .10 by the hour's end. Oh, and considering the fact that the body only processes a drink an hour, that still puts that same 240 pounder at an over-the-limit 0.88 if they stop drinking for an hour.

Target Field itself is a public transportation hub and there are a whole lot of ways to get people home that don't put them behind the wheel of a vehicle, but baseball's history suggests that getting drunken fans home is the least of the league's beer-related problems. Little more than 40 years ago in Cleveland, Indians management thought it would be a great idea to run a 10-cent beer night promotion that allowed fans to buy as much beer at that price as they could. After almost nine innings of streaking, flashing and bottle-throwing, drunken fans finally stormed the field after the visiting Texas Rangers charged one of them. Players laid into rioters with bats, fans threw portions of chairs and the game was forfeited by the Indians. A 10-cent beer night later that year limited fans to two cups apiece.

Five years later in Chicago, a Disco Demolition Night promotion at Comiskey Park drew fans by letting them in for less than a dollar if they brought a disco record with them. When those records were blown up on the field between games of a doubleheader and drunken (and otherwise intoxicated) fans stormed the field, the Chicago White Sox forfeited the second game. In the words of Chicago Tribune columnist David Israel, "It would have happened any place 50,000 teenagers got together on a sultry summer night with beer and reefer."

The problem isn't with beer itself. As Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson noted after Disco Demolition Night, "Beer and baseball go together -- they have for years." Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell pitched for Stroh's, New York Yankees announcer Mel Allen dubbed home runs "Ballantine Blasts" during a partnership with Ballantine Ale, Rheingold Beer sponsored Jackie Robinson's radio show and the Red Sox's Ted Williams made Narragansett Beer a favorite at Fenway Park. The St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium (Anheuser-Busch InBev), the Colorado Rockies' Coors Field (Molson Coors Brewing (TAP)) and the Milwaukee Brewers' Miller Park (SABMiller (SBMRY))are all named after big U.S. brewing families and their legacy breweries. When Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City wanted to make a big statement in its hometown, it became an official beer partner of the Kansas City Royals.

The problem is that a subset of fans regularly proves that it can't be trusted with an open tap at a major sporting event at any price. Delaware North and A-B InBev say there will be employees near their machines to doublecheck IDs and to make sure fans aren't being overserved, but why not just have the employee there? Well, the companies note that their machine can pour to the exact ounce, making it easier to get a six- or eight-ounce taster. However, as companies including Domino's (DPZ), Eat24, GrubHub (GRUB) and Seamless (owned by GrubHub) already know, you're going to order more when there's not another person involved in the transaction.

You have the full menu in front of you, you have the exact selection you want and you don't have an employee there judging you with his or her judgy eyes. While that's not necessarily the best thing for you where food is concerned, it's a more acute problem when beer is involved. Going with a self-serve model powered by cards valued at $50 or more gives a fan unfettered access to 11 12-ounce beers over the course of a game. Even if that game goes four hours, every adult on the planet weighing 240 pounds or less would still be drunk after putting away 11 beers during that span.

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However, that's not really Delaware North or A-B InBev's concern, is it?

They're not at the ballpark to make the security staff's job easier, to make local law enforcement's job easier or to make a customer's alcohol-buying experience more difficult. They're there to serve beer, in many cases to folks who've already served themselves before getting to the park.

We're sure both companies view self-serve beer machines as a great leap forward, but anyone who's ever stood behind a tap at a sporting event or run the token booth at a beer festival knows that even with limits in place, it's tough to keep everyone clear and functional. A self-serve system doesn't help that at all and can only do more harm to baseball's longstanding relationship with beer than it does good. Minnesota's All-Star Game crowd may handle it just fine, but a self-service procedure only needs one bad midsummer night to go horribly wrong.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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