PULLMAN – In more ways than one, Washington State fans are promised a more refreshing experience at home basketball games this season.
Kyle Smith and his defensive philosophies have already made the Cougars more competitive on the court, and earlier this week WSU’s athletic administration introduced another amenity that should enliven the gameday experience for alumni, students and casual fans who gather at Beasley Coliseum over the next few months.
On Thursday, as WSU opened Pac-12 Conference play against USC, the school debuted the “Cougar Den” – a beer/wine garden situated behind sections 18-20 on the concourse of Beasley Coliseum. The fenced-off area will serve fans beginning one hour before basketball games and close with 10 minutes left in the second half of men’s games and at the end of the third quarter of women’s games.
“This is really about amenities,” athletic director Pat Chun said Thursday. “We are in competition with HDTV and convenience at home, so we need to think of ways we can get all of our consumers, all of our patrons, all of our fans to come to Washington State events, and having enhanced amenities is a piece of it.”
The Cougar Den’s first customer was Jason Janosky, a Kennewick resident and 2001 WSU graduate who’s held football season tickets for a decade but decided to spend more time at Beasley Coliseum this winter when the Cougars hired Smith and announced they’d be retiring Klay Thompson’s jersey.
“Definitely I think I’ll get some more buddies that’ll come up specifically for this (Cougar Den),” Janosky said. “I think this Saturday for the UCLA game.”
Janosky was already sipping on a Citrus Mistress IPA, produced by Eugene’s Hop Valley Brewing Co., as a long line formed behind the concession booth just minutes after the Cougar Den opened. Patrons can purchase Citrus Mistress, Coors Light, Coors Banquet or Smith & Forge Cider for $7, while Blue Moon is $6. Two wine varieties, Townsend Pinot Gris and Townsend Red Blend, are available for $7.
“Frequently, when we come to the (Hollingbery) Fieldhouse, we have two or three (beverages) before we go to football,” said Leanne Ellis, who commuted from Ellensburg on Thursday with her husband, Ray, also a 1980 WSU grad. “This is great, there’s a little growing pain. I don’t think they anticipated the attendance. And it needs to be a little bit bigger and include more tables, but they’ll get there.”
Cougar Den attendees also have access to three food items not available anywhere else at Beasley Coliseum. Frito pie, poutine and bangers & mash, provided by Fork in the Road – the catering arm of Pullman’s South Fork Public House – can be purchased for $8 each.
“When we went to the Arizona State-WSU game down there in Tempe,” Ray Ellis said, “they serve beer at the stadium there.”
Leanne added: “It was a little magical.”
At least six other Pac-12 basketball venues serve beer and wine in some fashion – the University of Washington most recently adding alcohol sales at Alaska Airlines Arena last October.
Chun said a committee of WSU marketing/fundraising specialists surveyed the Pacific Northwest, attending a basketball game at Gonzaga, a Portland Trail Blazers game at the Moda Center and a Portland Timbers MLS game to “benchmark” against other colleges and professional teams in the region.
“We made a decision that we need to figure out how to make basketball a revenue source,” Chun said. “There’s two pieces, one is the performance piece of the team, which obviously that has been addressed.
“The other thing is, we recognize we can’t put out a consistent basketball schedule relative to TV times anymore, so we need to be able to have some amenities here that let people know, hey, if I come to a Washington State basketball game, we’re going to work hard on the basketball court but all the things I could have at home may be more fun because we’re going to also work to get more students out.”
Janosky pointed out that on-site alcohol sales will prompt fans to spend money at Beasley Coliseum, rather than at a bar or restaurant in Pullman prior to arriving at the arena.
His wife being a USC fan, Janosky had planned to attend Thursday’s game regardless, “but once I knew there was beer, I was like, ‘Heck yes.’ ”
He’s also encouraged by what Smith’s Cougars are doing on the court, noting “Just our style of play, it’s going to take them awhile to jell, but I like where they’re going.”
For now, fans must consume beverages within the confines of the Cougar Den – similar to the Fieldhouse and Cougville areas at WSU football games – although Chun indicated the school may eventually explore options that would allow customers to take containers to their seat.
“We’re going to try to stay nimble enough where as our consumer needs change, as our consumers wants are identified,” he said, “that we have all the data, that we have the team, that we have all the amenities we need that hopefully get a few more people to come out.”
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