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Fire up a football feature about business-of-tailgating

September 25, 2012

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Tailgating Institute of America holds regional contests that lead to crowing a national champion. Photo: {algo+rhythm} labs on Flickr

When it comes to the business of sports, it’s natural to think of the transactions that take place inside the arenas, stadia and courts that host America’s big team match-ups.

But outside these venues, the fan gatherings knowns as tailgating are quite the marketing and revenue phenomena themselves, and well worth a look as a basis for a fall financial spotlight.

Football at the K-12, college and pro levels is most clearly associated with the tailgating craze — heree’s an Atheletic Business online reprint of a Columbus Dispatch article about football booster groups cashing via tailgating concessions, even including the formtation of a Future Tailgaters of America club.  But it can happen vis a vis any sport and even other gatherings like Renaissance Faires.

You can find tailgaters via national associations or even the tailgating Meetup groups in your areas.  Start now, early in the season, to get a feel for how tailgaters’ spending and styles range across the spectrum from no-frills to chandeliers-in-the-tent standards.

And to find suppliers, check out the exhibitors’ lists for trade shows like the National Hardware Show, which has a tailgating segment, and the big Specialty Equipment Makers Association expo coming up in late October.  I got plenty of hits Googling “tailgating equipment” with a geographical term, too, for items like portable bars, tents, Freedom Grills that mount to vehicle bumpers and other contraptions.

TCU fans attended the 2011 National Tailgating finals broadcast by ESPN. Photo {algo+rhythm} labs on Flickr

There’s even an industry association representing the conglomeration of suppliers that serve this niche, and according to the Tailgating Industry Association’s (TIA) State of the Industry Report,  by some accounts the pre-game fan gatherings represent a $20 billion per year sector.  Other insiders posit an even greater economic impact, though all admit that measuring the spending on these pre-, post- and during-game get-togethers is difficult.

For example, is a bottle of mustard purchased and half-used during tailgating a …tailgating expense?  Or a consumer’s regular household spending of which part happens to be used at a tailgating party instead of a backyard barbeque?  Kellogg isn’t taking any chances that its PopTart presence will be so ambiguous; it’s packaged the breakfast treats in the regalia of several popular college teams, reports StylishGameDay.com, another font of tailgating lore and trends that exhorts “No more Styrofoam and hot dogs!”

Tailgating is an important component of sports team / university branding, finds John Sherry, a marketing professor and cultural anthropologist at Notre Dame University.  In a recent study, he found that in addition to building community and being a sort of harvest ritual for fans, the trapping and traditions associated with on-site partying helps schools and teams build their brands.

If your coverage focuses on environmentalism, this Natural Resources Defense Council blog post about green tailgating and green grilling is a font of ideas.

And for anyone in a market with a sports venue under the planning stages, here’s a MinnPost.com aricle from Minneapolis (and interesting reader comments) about the problems of car-centric tailgating areas.


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