Seahawks fans were rowdy enough at CenturyLink Field this season to break a Guinness World Record for loudest stadium — twice.
Would those fans have been even louder if CenturyLink had tripled the number of places to buy hard liquor and allowed fans to carry spirits back to the stadium’s 67,000 seats?
There might have been an answer to that if officials with First and Goal, which manages CenturyLink Field,
had gotten their way with the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) before football season started last year.
That’s when they asked the board to alter the stadium’s state-approved “alcohol-operating plan” to allow drinks with hard liquor to be sold at 82 stations, up from 26, and allow people to take those drinks to their seats.
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“We hear quite often from ticket holders that, ‘We aren’t allowed to have gin and tonics in more than a few areas,’ so that was us trying to add amenities,” said Adam Link, general manager for CenturyLink Field.
But the liquor board’s executive members had questions they wanted answered regarding assaults, alcohol violations and alcohol-fueled harassment at the stadium. Since December 2012, WSLCB officers have given at least seven warnings or violations, including for selling alcohol to underage drinkers and clearly inebriated fans.
On Sept. 15, an undercover 19-year-old working for the liquor board purchased alcohol on four of nine attempts during a high-energy game against Seattle’s archrival, the San Francisco 49ers.
“In my 12 years of working with stadiums, there has been a marked cultural change in fan behavior at stadiums, particularly at NFL games,” Lt. Susan Blaker, WSLCB’s regional government liaison for Seattle and King County, said in an email to WSLCB executive members. “An ever-increasing amount of bad behavior and get-as-drunk-as-you-want attitude prevails.
“Night and playoff games are much higher-risk events.”
Discussions between stadium officials and the board about different liquor availability plans became so tense at one point that First and Goal’s senior vice president Lance Lopes threatened to pressure the board by taking the issue to fans.
Then, in a shift, First and Goal shelved its efforts to increase alcohol sales for this season. Its alcohol-sale points for beer, wine or spirits stand at 476, with 976 alcohol-service employees.
Link says First and Goal officials haven’t decided whether to ask for an expansion of alcohol sales for next season.
If they do, Seattle police, Pioneer Square residents and football fans looking for a family-friendly environment may be difficult parties to woo, especially if Blaker’s judgment about “bad” behavior and playoff games holds true this weekend — and possibly next if the Hawks run continues.
Lisa Brown, a 49er fan from Vancouver, Wash., said the stadium shouldn’t be thinking about increasing alcohol sales because so many fans drink before the game. Last season, Brown says she was physically threatened and her preteen son harassed by one drunken Seahawks fan after another.
“It was my son’s first game, and he doesn’t want to go anymore,” said Brown. “You’ve got kids who are encouraged to play the sport, but they can’t go see their team play in a big stadium because of safety issues.”
After the WSLCB’s sting operation in September, CenturyLink added another security team of about 40 people to oversee alcohol sales exclusively. Since then, the stadium’s alcohol compliance record has stayed clean.
If that trend continues, some WSLCB officials say they might consider increasing alcohol availability in the stadium. Justin Nordhorn, the chief of enforcement for WSLCB’s education division, said that as long as there’s enough staff training, oversight and compliance, allowing people to take spirit drinks back to their seats might be an interesting experiment.
“If you can’t bring alcohol to the seats, are people then binge-drinking in spirit-service areas so they can go back to their seats?” he wondered.
Alcohol wasn’t specifically cited as a cause for every in-stadium case of assault and harassment that made headlines during the Seahawks’ 2012 season, but the incidents didn’t make it easier for the board to consider increasing alcohol sales.
Two intoxicated Bellevue officers were kicked out of CenturyLink and later reprimanded by their department after openly harassing fans and a Seattle police officer inside and outside the stadium. One of them resigned earlier this week after being pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving in November.
According to data collected by Nordhorn from CenturyLink, all 14 arrests during the 2012 season and 96 percent of 542 ejections from the stadium were alcohol-related. Although the stadium is publicly owned, stadium spokeswoman Suzanne Lavender said CenturyLink would not release this season’s ejection and arrest numbers to the public, because of “security reasons.”
The Seattle Police Department said it doesn’t have those numbers, either. Sgt. Ryan Long, who leads the department’s undercover operations outside the stadium, says the stadium’s security staff does little to coordinate with on-duty police outside the stadium unless someone needs to be arrested.
Long said he proposed the undercover program that puts on-duty officers in fan clothes after hearing that children of his colleagues had been harassed by drunken fans at games.
Link says many of the violations in the past year were the result of a new food and beverage vendor’s staff needing more training.
Nordhorn said WSLCB officers have since retrained the vendor’s staff on the stadium’s alcohol-sale policies: Card everyone trying to purchase alcohol no matter how old they look, don’t sell to someone who appears to be intoxicated and end alcohol sales before the fourth quarter.
Link said the stadium’s patron-to-security ratio is about 40 to 1, a ratio the WSLCB says is adequate.
If First and Goal does decide to expand alcohol sales, Link says it won’t attempt anything without working carefully with the liquor board and neighborhood associations.
Tija Petrovich, who’s lived and worked in Pioneer Square for two decades, said Link has been open and responsive to the Pioneer Square Residents Council she co-founded and to nearby neighborhoods. Because she has to live with the aftermath of each game, Petrovich says she likes to keep tabs on the stadium’s alcohol-service policies.
But she was surprised to learn this week that she had not been informed of the stadium’s preseason proposals for liquor-sales expansion.
If First and Goal attempts an alcohol-sale expansion again this year, Petrovich wants her neighborhood to be alerted. “Wherever the meeting is going to be held — Mars, Olympia, I don’t care — we should know about it,” Petrovich said. “If they have plans to do something like that, they should lay it out for everyone to see.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or email@example.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.