A Brief History of the 'Beer Snake'

As they return to stadiums, fans are back to stacking empty cups into huge towers. Where did they come from?
Chicago, US
Cricket match Beer Snake Getty

While we’ve seen the worst of late pandemic boozy excess in this year’s NBA playoffs, where several fans made headlines for starting fights, running on the court, spitting on Atlanta Hawks’ star Trae Young, and throwing popcorn at Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook, there’s something slightly more wholesome happening at baseball (and cricket) stadiums now that the ballparks are filling up again. Fans have been making snakes out of empty beer cups, creating winding and ungainly plastic monuments to having a few drinks on a hot afternoon. Is this an engineering triumph, alcohol-induced performance art, or just gross overindulgence?


On Sunday, just days after Chicago opened up its restaurants, bars, and baseball stadiums to full capacity, Cubs fans at a packed Wrigley Field home game upstaged the actual game with a massive “beer snake” in the outfield bleachers. The thing was gigantic, spanning not just several rows but almost the entirety of the section from the barrier to the bleachers, and requiring multiple people to lift it. Amateur mathematicians on social media estimated the snake spanned over 100 feet which means that at 2 cups per inch, roughly 2400 empty beer cups went into making it. At Wrigley Field prices of $12 a pop, that’s over $30,000 worth of beer. Even if the reality is half that, it’s a testament to the power of teamwork and overdoing it while day drinking. 

While we’re seeing these plastic monstrosities in more and more places like the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark, the Toronto Blue Jays’ temporary Buffalo home at Sahlen Field, or the Chicago White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field, the act of stacking empty beer-drinking vessels at sports games is a storied and international tradition. Wikipedia incorrectly states that the “first recorded beer snake occurred in January 1997 at the WACA Cricket Ground in Perth, Australia”; the Chicago Sun-Times featured a photo shot by iconic sports photographer Bob Langer of Cubs fans building a snake out of beer cups in 1969. “Ever wonder what happens to empty beer cups at Wrigley Field,” the 1969 caption reads. “Well, these fans see how high they can pile them, much to the amusement of all. But, alas, they tumble to the floor.”  


Although Australia didn’t invent the beer snake, they have popularized it, arguably perfecting it at cricket matches over the past couple of decades. Cricket matches are long as hell, so it’s perfect for drinking beers and making a menacing structure out of the empties. At the Sydney Cricket Grounds in 2013, a raucous crowd created a “record-breaking beer snake” that some Twitter users affectionately called the “beeraconda.” The thing was so massive that Cricket Australia, the governing body of the sport, began cracking down on cup snakes at games, confiscating empty cups and attempting to break up these snakes before they get too big. "We are attempting to appeal to families,” said Cricket Australia spokesperson Craig Pipe at the time. “We want them to enjoy their day and to come back. Security will judge things on a case-by-case basis. Patrons don't generally like beer to be spilled on them or to be hit by flying plastic cups." You can still find beer snakes at cricket grounds across the world, like this impressive recent one at Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham, United Kingdom. 


In 2010, the Winnepeg Bombers of the Canadian Football League banned beer snakes after debris from a crumbling snake injured several fans. But in the States, these structures have been thriving. In 2020 during the XFL’s short run as an alternative to the National Football league, fans at a D.C. Defenders game created a 1237-cup snake that SB Nation dubbed as the fledgling league’s “greatest tradition.” The official XFL Twitter account posted a stat card breaking down the beer snake. But they aren’t without their share of controversy here: Fans have said it blocks their view, some fans start stacking before they finish their beers causing backwash and beer to splash around and leak, and some worry about the snake crashing and causing harm.  

But for the Chicago Cubs, whose fans have reminded the world about what humanity can accomplish after getting shithoused on several Old Styles, the cup snake might not be going away. Crane Kenney, President of Business Operations for the Chicago Cubs, told 870 The Score, "What we decided to do this weekend was just let them snake."