Suds could be in seats for Clips games this season

Slapshots, saves and suds in the seats could all soon be part of taking in a Nanaimo Clippers game – at least for part of the upcoming season.

The B.C. Hockey League team was approved by city council for a primary liquor licence as a third-party operator. That will allow the organization to provide patrons with beer during home games, while banking any profits.

The licence is subject to provincial approval, which could take six to eight weeks, meaning beer could be in arena seats as early as mid-October. It is also subject to a city staff-reviewed observation of how the team handles beer dispensing under a primary liquor licence, which irks Bill Bestwick, the team’s coach, GM and co-owner. He’s also a city councillor.

“We’ve been dispensing beer at the arena for 20 years. We’re not going to do anything different,” said Bestwick, who was not part of the approval decision due to conflict of interest. “I don’t understand that decision. It’s kind of stupid when you think that lacrosse can have beer in the stands at [Nanaimo Ice Centre].”

The Clippers are also one of the last teams in the BCHL not allowing beer in the stands. The mezzanine above the east end of the rink, which has limited viewing of the ice surface, is currently the only place during a game to consume a cold one.

If approved by the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, sales will be extended from the upper mezzanine to Sections 1, 2 and 3 at the discretion of the arena manager for a one-year trial period from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, 2011.

Sections 1, 2 and 3 are the first sections on the left as you enter the front doors of Frank Crane Arena.

The organization will have to adhere to regulations set by the liquor control branch, including the purchase of additional insurance if needed, five security members monitoring the alcohol service areas, no ‘on sale’ liquor for marketing purposes, and servers must have Serving It Right certificates. Alcohol will not be sold past the 10-minute mark of the third period.

Security is another contentious issue. The city wants paid security to monitor beer serviced sections, while the Clips want to use volunteer security.

“You get what you pay for and we’d like to see paid security in those areas,” said Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan.

Bestwick said alcohol sales have dropped significantly over the past few years. At Frank Crane Arena alone, revenues deposited to the city reserve fund have decreased from $16,500 in 2004 to $1,700 in 2009.

“Everything has just gotten more expensive,” said Bestwick. “Cost of the beer, admission, cost of insurance and licensing, cost of the cups and staff. I used to walk on the ferry all the time when it was $5. Now it’s $15 or whatever so I don’t use it as much. Same thing.”

Bestwick said the idea behind the application was to enhance the experience for fans by “keeping pace in the 21st century” and enabling fans to responsibly enjoy a cold one while watching the entertainment.

“A guy goes to the game, maybe takes his girl, he waves his hand and a girl brings them a beer and a glass of wine and they can sit there and relax and watch the game. That’s all we wanted.”

GAME ON … The Clips host Surrey on Sept. 17 for the team’s 2010-2011 home opener.

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