GIBBS: Vanderbilt Athletics approving alcohol sales adds to Malcolm Turner’s impressive start

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GIBBS: Vanderbilt Athletics approving alcohol sales adds to Malcolm Turner’s impressive start

The Hustler sits down with Malcolm Turner, Vanderbilt's new athletics director, during his first day of work on Friday, February 1, 2019. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

The Hustler sits down with Malcolm Turner, Vanderbilt's new athletics director, during his first day of work on Friday, February 1, 2019. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Emily Goncalves

The Hustler sits down with Malcolm Turner, Vanderbilt's new athletics director, during his first day of work on Friday, February 1, 2019. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Emily Goncalves

Emily Goncalves

The Hustler sits down with Malcolm Turner, Vanderbilt's new athletics director, during his first day of work on Friday, February 1, 2019. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Simon Gibbs, Deputy Sports Editor

Earlier this summer, the Southeastern Conference unanimously voted to permit alcohol sales at games, leaving Malcolm Turner, Vanderbilt’s newly appointed athletic director, in a bit of a conundrum. With the 2019 football season looming, Turner was on the clock–he had to decide whether alcohol sales would create enough revenue and fan engagement to justify permitting these potentially harmful substances. After all, the rule didn’t force schools to distribute alcoholic beverages at games. Instead, it left the decision up to the athletic department.

In regards to alcohol sales, the best decision (albeit, the one that required the most rules and regulations) seemed rather conspicuous to the outsider — if other SEC schools were to adapt an alcohol policy and if Vanderbilt fans wished that they, too, could purchase alcohol at games, then the benefits of permitting these drinks would far outweigh the costs.

If Malcolm Turner has proven anything in his six month tenure as athletic director, it’s that he will listen, he will learn and he will adapt. Turner seamlessly made the transition with the help of his intuition, which previously sparked the implementation of Vanderbilt Baseball’s “Home Run Lounge.” Despite his lack of collegiate experience, a subject of skepticism upon his hiring, Turner foresaw the adaptation to the conference’s alcohol policy and experimented last spring with a premium seating area, equipped with alcoholic beverages, at Hawkins Field. The feedback from the Home Run Lounge was overwhelmingly positive and provided Turner with a sufficient trial-run for alcohol sales at other athletics events.

All things considered, Turner handled this “conundrum” with apparent ease, much like the other renovations, initiatives and marketing strategies he has adapted thus far.

Just six months after assuming office, Turner’s execution has been nothing short of impressive; his impact on various athletic programs has been evident, and on Wednesday afternoon, Turner continued his forward progress: the Commodore athletic department officially announced that alcohol sales would be permitted for the upcoming season. Turner supplemented the news with his own thoughtful commentary, as he tweeted the following:

“Not only will this game day initiative enhance our fan experience, it will provide additional resources to invest in our mission of helping our student-athletes succeed on and off the field, such as through facility enhancements and in other areas…We want our Commodore family to have a safe, inclusive, and welcoming experience at our games, and we will continue to monitor this new amenity closely throughout the upcoming football season.”

In other words, fans can enjoy a cold alcoholic beverage on a scorching Nashville Saturday while supporting athletics programs, as a portion of that revenue will go towards various facility enhancements and other programs.

Though it’s only been six months, Malcolm Turner has taken all the right steps towards creating a new chapter of Vanderbilt Athletics. The alcoholic beverages may be the most recent initiative, but since his arrival, Turner has started fostering an environment in which students, alumni and Nashville natives are drawn to athletics programs, regardless of their affiliation with university.

Turner and his marketing team have even reached out to the coaches for feedback on the new strategies.

On Wednesday, July 17 at SEC Media Days, Derek Mason appeared on Jared & The GM only to praise Malcolm Turner and the athletic department for similar fan engagement initiatives.

“There’s a great marketing team that’s in place,” Mason said on the ESPN 102.5 podcast. “I’ve had the chance to meet with them, and this is really the first time I’ve gotten the chance to meet with marketing. Now I’m going into year 6. That tells you a lot about where we’re at, and Malcolm is really pushing this thing because he understands.”

Entering his sixth year as head coach, Derek Mason has made the most of the resources available. Those resources, while seemingly scarce, have given Mason the opportunity to build a bowl-eligible program.

And yet, in six years, he never once met with the marketing team about the attendance at Vanderbilt football games. But this is a new era of Vanderbilt athletics, spearheaded by a dedicated leader in Malcolm Turner. Not only has Turner begun exploring different methods to help fill seats such as alcohol sales, multi-sport ticket packages and more– he’s began to renovate, too.

On February 1, when Turner first took office, he spoke with The Vanderbilt Hustler and expressed interest in upgrading basketball, football and other facilities that pail in comparison to that of Vanderbilt’s conference foes. Turner has fulfilled that promise by installing new turf and upgrading the scoreboard at Hawkins Field, building a new video scoreboard at Vanderbilt Stadium (the stadium’s first major renovation since 1981), mounting a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system for men’s and women’s basketball, renovating their locker rooms and enhancing various athletics facilities in the McGugin Center.

From the outside looking in, it sure seems like Turner has done his part to ensure fans attend games, while players and coaches are satisfied with the rate at which their programs and facilities are steadily improving. The approval of alcohol sales is a step in the right direction, but when coupled with the laundry list of marketing techniques and exciting renovations, the result could be powerful.

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