Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do you prefer tailgating or buying your beer in the stadium?

One of my favorite behavior economics thought leaders, Steve Dubner of Freakonomics fame, was on Marketplace this week (see podcasthere).  The topic was also one of my favorites – beer.  Specifically, it was on the counterintuitive notion that selling more beer inside a sports stadium decreases problems from alcohol misuse.

The common assumption we make is that the easier it is to buy alcohol inside the stadium, the more people will drink and the more problems that will occur.  But that is ignoring the behavioral science. 

First, we need to think about the alternative.  What are people doing now?  They hang out in the parking lot before the game and drink.  Because this is alcohol that is purchased earlier, there is less of a cost-consciousness limiting the volume imbibed.  Also, because of the perceived time pressure, fans were chugging rather than drinking – making it more likely that they would drink a greater volume than they planned.  Then they might also sneak some alcohol into the game (or sneak back to the parking lot during halftime) to drink more.  Again, the cost and time pressures lead to greater volumes.

But, if it is cheaper and easier and faster to tailgate and sneak in alcohol, why would having alcohol available inside make any difference?  Wouldn’t fans just ignore it and keep doing what they are doing?  Nope.  It turns out that making it a little easier to drink inside can activate our laziness tendency.  Tailgating and sneaking both require some advance planning.  This employs a part of the brain that has a high relative mental workload and that we try to avoid behaviorally.  So we jump at any excuse not to plan.  Then once we are in the stadium, the long lines and expensive prices act as real time barriers to over-consuming. 

This is based on very little real data.  West Virginia tried it for football games.  Alcohol related security calls went down 34%.  The athletic director (who happens to be first round draft pick Andrew Luck’s dad) is advising other schools so more data is coming.  But I can predict that the benefits will depend on the balance between the perceived time, money, and workload of buying beer inside the stadium and the perceived time, money, and workload of tailgating and sneaking alcohol in. 

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