EMU, Oakland universities eyed for baseball league — if booze is OK'd

By Danielle James
Capital News Service

Lansing — A summer baseball league could expand to two Michigan university stadiums, but only if new legislation allows them a liquor license. 

A recently introduced House bill would amend liquor laws to include the baseball stadiums of Eastern Michigan University and Oakland University as alcohol vendors. 

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, who did not respond to a request for comment. 

Universities now can obtain a liquor license and sell alcohol at their conference centers, hotels, restaurants and golf course clubhouses, but only if the land is leased to private companies. 

Steve Waterfield, director of athletics for Oakland University, said the Northwoods League was insistent on updating legislation before expanding to university stadiums. The amendment to the law would allow Eastern and Oakland to rent their baseball stadiums out between the fall and spring semesters.

The amendment to the law would allow Eastern and Oakland to rent their baseball stadiums out between the fall and spring semesters, said Bob Murphy, the chief policy officer for the Michigan Association of State Universities. 

Murphy said the stadiums would be filled by the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer baseball league with 22 teams in seven states. The liquor license would not apply to regular-season games for Oakland or Eastern. 

“The bill changes are for an expansion of the league, which wants to add teams based out of those stadiums,” Murphy said. “The universities would rent out the baseball parks to be operated by the team, so it wouldn’t be for Eagles or Golden Grizzly games.” 

The Great Lakes division of the league currently has three teams in Michigan: the Traverse City Pit Spitters, the Kalamazoo Growlers and the Battle Creek Bombers. 

All of them have liquor licenses, according to Dick Radatz, Jr., the chair and co-founder of the league. 

“We have 1.3 billion fans a summer coming to our league,” Radatz said. “The inability to service liquor is the hindrance as to why we’re not in these stadiums already.”  

The league was insistent on updating legislation before expanding to university stadiums, said Steve Waterfield, Oakland’s director of athletics. 

“We had some initial conversations pre-pandemic with the Northwoods League,” Waterfield said, “and it was clear based on those that the liquor license part of it was critical.” 

The Northwoods League has letters of intent from both universities, according to Radatz. 

“Typically these facilities exist, and they’re under-utilized in the summer, except for some camps,” Radatz said. “But we’re able to come in as a tenant, them being the landlord, and they can gain revenue.” 

Eastern Michigan’s baseball stadium, called Oestrike Stadium, has a capacity of 2,500. Oakland’s can seat 500. 

Radatz said the summer league is an opportunity to bring revenue to businesses in the area. 

“Initially we looked at opposition to the bill due to the effect it might have on other businesses, like bars and restaurants,” Radatz said. “But it’s actually quite the opposite because people will stop and drink before and after the games.” 

The possibility of underage drinking is a reason for extra precaution, said Doug Scoles, the regional executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 

“If you did everything exactly right, there shouldn’t be concern,” Scoles said. “But the reality is that there’s much more of a chance of having underage drinkers, and when you get into a college campus, you get a whole bunch of new issues.”

“The thing we’re concerned about is taking the necessary precautions to make sure that server training is going on and that they’re checking IDs,” he said. 

Waterfield said leadership at Oakland is supportive of the legislation. 

“If we move forward, making sure we comply with everything and that it’s done in a safe and responsible manner is very important,” he said. 

He noted that the partnership could also be an opportunity for a renovated baseball facility. 

According to Murphy, both universities would likely receive rental payments from the Northwoods League.

The total impact of revenue on the universities wouldn’t be determined until after legislation is passed, said Waterfield. 

“A lot of the actual benefits would depend on what type of agreement is reached,” he said.

The athletic department at Eastern, however, hasn’t been notified about the bill or any future deal, according to Greg Steiner, Eastern’s associate athletic director for athletic media relations.

“This might be something the university has been working on,” Steiner said, “but they haven’t involved us in athletics.”

EMU media relations did not respond to a request for comment. Murphy said that EMU and Oakland were the only two universities being included in the league expansion at this time.