On July 9, the Eugene City Council voted in a unanimous decision to extend legal tailgating hours at Autzen Stadium before University of Oregon football games.
Traditionally, Oregon football fans park in lots near Autzen Stadium before games, where they can socialize and legally drink alcohol for several hours. The changes to city code raise the total tailgating time from four to six hours and will be in effect this fall. Tailgating will not begin before 7 a.m. on game days.
Due to some community concern on the effect of the extended hours for drinking, Councilor Jennifer Yeh proposed an amendment before the final vote.
“It’s the irresponsible fans unfortunately we have to plan for,” said Yeh.
The council unanimously approved the amendment, causing the ordinance to sunset after 1 year, when it will be reviewed and re-approved or discarded by the council. UO is required to give the council four sets of information by April 2019. These include a comparison of traffic and alcohol-related arrests to previous tailgating seasons, a coordinated parking plan between UO and Eugene that ensures emergency vehicle access and reduces negative impacts, an Auzten Stadium entry and re-entry policy that addresses problematic drinking and a plan for enforcing underage drinking laws.
According to the original proposal, UO offered to provide extra security and review the effects of the extended hours after each football season.
The proposal was brought to the council by UO in June. On June 18, the city held a public hearing on the matter.
UO Deputy Athletic Director Eric Roedl told the council that the proposal aims to improve the game experience for the 60 percent of fans who drive from all over Oregon to attend games
“What we’re doing through this proposal is creating an opportunity for them to spend more time with friends, with family at Autzen and experiencing that football game day which for many is an experience that really extends beyond the game itself,” he said.
He also said the extended hours could improve congestion from game traffic on the I-5 corridor and near Autzen Stadium. According to Roedl, all other Pac-12 and Power Five schools have five or more hours of tailgating except the University of California. At Oregon State, tailgating begins at 7 a.m., regardless of kickoff time, he said.
In June, City Councilor Alan Zelenka said the biggest concern with the proposal he’d heard from others was the possible effects of extended alcohol drinking hours.
“More hours mean more drunk people,” he said.
But UOPD Police Chief Matt Carmichael spoke in support of the amendment.
“We average about 55,000 fans per game, and yet we probably experience 30 to 33 ejections on average,” he said. “Quite frankly not all of those are alcohol related. So, the reality is UO fans come and have a great time and there’s a very small percentage of those that we have issues with related to alcohol.”
At the July meeting, Yeh said many community members near Autzen Stadium still had concerns.
“Chief Carmichael said that increasing the number of hours would not increase drinking because people would drink the same amount, just over a longer period of time, and I think that’s probably true for many responsible drinkers,” said Yeh. “It’s not the responsible drinkers I think we are worried about in this scenario. It’s not the responsible drinkers who cause problems at the stadium. They don’t park and block streets in driveways, they don’t throw trash in yards as they’re leaving to go home from the game, they don’t give underaged people alcohol.”
But Councilor Mike Clark said the opportunity will create a destination event that lightens traffic and benefits the community.
“Based on what I’ve heard from public safety professionals, this creates both a safer atmosphere and one that involves more and more economic development in our community,” he said. “It seems like a good idea to me.”