GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Beer at a Grand Rapids Public Schools facility? It’s a reality thanks to a partnership between the district, the city’s soccer club and New Holland Brewery.
Those involved say it’s beneficial for everyone.
The Grand Rapids Football Club started less than five years ago as a soccer fans’ dream and a GoFundMe page. Since then, it’s grown to include an army of devoted fans that travel around the Midwest to see their beloved Blues play. The team is now about to enter its fourth season.
The Blues have gone from a team exclusively comprised of West Michigan players to recruiting athletes internationally.
Until now, hardcore fans known as the Grand Army were limited to drinking during a pregame gathering at Bob’s Sports Bar on Michigan Street NE, then making the half-mile march to Houseman Field to watch the team play.
Now, fans will be able to quaff pints of Holland Brewing Company brew, including a lager made especially for the club, called “Xtra Time.”
“That was one (of the) biggest complaints we got, was there was no beer in the stadium. So there were a lot of fans who would stay away from games or maybe just stay at the bar and have a few more beers,” said Matt Roberts, founder and owner of the Grand Rapids Football Club. “We’re hopeful this captures a few more of those casual fans out there who maybe don’t know much about soccer.”
The school board agreed to change its policy to allow beer at this one venue for this one group. In turn, half of the profits will go to the school system to pay for the upkeep of the stadium, uniforms and equipment.
“GRPS will be seeing a big check at the end of the year, hopefully,” said Roberts.
His hope is that check will be $20,000 or $30,000.
The district leadership understands there is a potential perception issue here with a school venue serving alcohol.
“That was the risk we took. We know that there is a little bit of that concern, but we’re looking at (the) big picture here, that how do we keep this energy here in the city? And now GRPS with this beautiful venue, we can be part of it,” said district spokesman John Helmholdt. “If we’re going to have a semi-pro soccer team, it needs to be in the heart of the city. And what better place than this beautiful, historic venue.”
Detroit and Kalamazoo’s soccer clubs already offer beer. The Detroit team serves up beer at Keyworth Stadium, which houses events for Hamtramck’s school system.
“It’s our chance to be part of the energy, to support their team and to support our city because this is really something that is good for our community,” Helmholdt said.
Roberts said the team has had no significant problems with fans previously and they plan to keep it that way.
All beer sales will be conducted in accordance with Michigan Liquor Control Commission regulations by servers trained and certified through an alcohol server training program approved by the MLCC.
People will have to have a valid ID in order to get a wristband to be able to purchase beer. Certain parts of the stadium will be designated as “family zones,” where beer will not be allowed.
“We’re going to sing songs and we’re going to support the team, but No. 1, we’re going to be respectful and we’re going to make sure that people around us have fun,” Roberts said.
GRFC returns to Houseman Field for their fourth campaign at 7:30 p.m. May 4. The team will take on Livonia City FC.
**Correction: A previous version of this article stated GRFC was entering its third season. It is actually entering its fourth season. We regret the error, which has been fixed.