To some event organizers, tailgating is a proud tradition, whether it’s adults meeting in the parking lot before a youth game for drinks and snacks, or whether it’s a full-on set-up for a college game, compete with cornhole, coolers, a grill and a high-def TV (not to mention a tent emblazoned with the official logo and mascot.)
To an increasing number of event organizers and facility managers, though, it’s becoming a problem – not the least of which is due to intoxicated fans, underage drinkers and fights that result from disputes over team rivalries, tailgate spaces and more. And in a litigious sports business environment, it’s something professionals can’t afford to ignore.
The problems have been reflected in news articles all along, but came to prominence over the past several years. In fact, an ABC News article noted that fans who tailgate prior to baseball and football games are 14 times more likely to leave the stadium intoxicated.
Some sports organizers disallow tailgating on the premises of their facilities. Others have tried to regulate the activity by creating a set of rules in order to ensure consistency and fairness among fans.
In fall 2016, the Kansas City Chiefs put forth rules including one stating that tailgaters were limited to an eight-foot area behind each individual parking space. In fact, the organization went so far as to create a graphic depicting proper positioning for cars and tailgate paraphernalia (TVs, grills, tents, chairs, etc.) positioning. They also created new traffic patterns and parking fee structures.
That didn’t sit too well with fans, according to an article in the Kansas City Star, which noted the resistance to change, particularly among longtime tailgaters who resented not only the limitations but the fact that they would have to arrive earlier in order to find a position near the stadium.
Sports events at all levels – pro, college and amateur – have varying policies governing tailgating. Many, such as those events held on college campuses prior to games, are subject to rules; for example, the University of Florida has a sheet of rules from the campus police force dictating what is and is not acceptable during tailgate periods.
But tailgates also have the potential to be a positive influence for the sports organization sponsoring them as well. For example, in 2014, USA Football worked with Tyson Foods to produce the USA Football Tailgate Tour Presented by Tyson. Throughout the playing season, the tour visited high schools around the nation on game day and honored one student-athlete at each game, as well as sponsored a tailgate party for the student body featuring (what else?) Tyson chicken.
In addition, it’s essential to note that sports teams don’t have a lock on tailgating. In fact, it is seen at 5Ks, mud runs, concerts, festivals and more. And if sports organizers are canny, they can think of ways to mine this as a new revenue stream. Sports Business Journal, for example, cites the entrepreneur who set up a miniature general store in the middle of a tailgate parking lot and sold items like suntan lotion, hot dogs, umbrellas and beer.
It’s also conceivable that a business-minded sports planner could garner sponsorship funding for the tailgate (making it the Official XYZ Tailgate Party Area), or could have amenities sponsored such as the power, Wi-Fi and more.
In fact, notes Sports Business Journal, Tom Garfinkel, president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins, says that there even could be sponsorship of distinct themed tailgate areas: a family one, a party affair, and a VIP section, something like a mini-Super Bowl tailgate.
“Conventional wisdom is to just get people in the stadium,” Garfinkel said during an interview that took place at the stadium during pregame festivities. Spinning around, motioning to the grounds, he said, “They are here, why wouldn’t we sell to them?”