NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that would allow alcohol sales at Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena officially passed the House and Senate Thursday, March 21.
The Senate Ways and Means committee recommended the plan for passage Tuesday, March 5.
The bill passed in the Senate on March 18, 27 to 4.
On March 21, the House decided to comply with the Senate's bill, and it passed the House 70 to 21, with one person who decided not to vote.
It's a topic that's long been discussed, especially when it comes to big events and concerts.
Republican Senator Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville introduced the bill in February that would allow alcohol at special events and concerts, but not games.
The SEC has a strict no-alcohol policy. If the rule ever changed, the bill ensures a new piece of legislation would not be necessary.
Massey said she believes this would help Knoxville compete with other big cities to bring big names to town.
"Bottom line is, it's kind of a fairness issue," Massey said. "We can't compete for those big venues like Kenny Chesney and big names because they depend a whole lot on the sales of concessions and obviously the alcohol is a part of that."
Massey said alcohol sales could help boost tourism and economic drive in the area.
"When [recruiting groups are] negotiating a contract with a promoter, they look at the projected take is and with the extra alcohol sales, they're able to sweeten the pot more," Massey said.
Event groups that book concerts, like AC Entertainment, say they agree that alcohol could help raise Knoxville's profile.
"There are a number of artists that don't want to play arenas or venues that don't serve alcohol," Ted Heinig of AC Entertainment said. "So that would put Thompson-Boling back on a level playing ground with other arenas in the region."
Heinig and Massey both said alcohol sales at venues is often safer, as people aren't sneaking in drinks or drinking excessively before an event.
The University says Knoxville is the only one of the four major Tennessee cities that doesn't allow alcohol sales at its major venue, behind Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Murfreesboro.
"It's not only just the sales at that event; it's also the folks coming to Knoxville, staying in Knoxville because they're going to an event, going out to dinner before they go to the event," Massey said.
According to Massey, Visit Knoxville did an economic impact study that showed this could be a $2 million annual boost.
Ultimately, Massey said this bill, once it gets on Governor Bill Lee's desk, will make sure Knoxville doesn't get left behind.
Once Governor Lee signs it into law, it is up to UT to make policies and procedures for handling the new opportunity and to get the necessary permits.