Crisp fall air may mean the start of sweater weather, but it also marks the season for any sports fan’s favorite pastime: tailgating. Whether you’re cheering on your alma mater or rooting for the big leagues, tailgating is a long-standing tradition full of good company, good food and a little friendly rivalry. And while being the host with the most is certainly fun, set-up costs can add up quickly. Follow these game-day tips to score a total tailgating touchdown that won’t break the bank.
We spoke with tailgating experts from around the country who support different teams and sports but agree on one thing—friends and fans are all you really need for a tailgate that feels like a million bucks.
BBQ on a budget
The first time many aspiring tailgaters plan their own events is in college (or shortly thereafter), when budgets are typically tight. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep costs low and still have fun. On average, tailgaters typically plan to spend around $10 per person.1 Ryan Tabika of Bloomington, Illinois has a tailgating setup that’s fit for a king (we’ll get to that in a minute). But even he says, “Surround yourself with the right people (nice weather and a decent team don't hurt either) and you can have just as much fun with a chair, a sub sandwich and a cooler.” Joanna Corrigan, who tailgates every season at Michigan State University, says, “Over the years, our tailgates have evolved as our pocketbooks have evolved. Twenty years ago, a charcoal grill and one case of off-brand soda was as fancy as we got.”
Pull out all the stops
Tailgating often gets bigger and better with experience. Tabika and his brother’s tailgating operation includes: Two 65" televisions with built-in satellites, two portable generators, a pop-up tent, portable outdoor games, a popcorn maker, a grill, and a stadium-style hotdog roller. Grilling aficionado Chris Bigham of Cincinnati, Ohio notes, “Tailgating can be expensive if you want to get creative with your main course, but I was always careful about my spending. I would plan out the season menu early and watch grocery store ads for items on sale.” He’d also ask friends to pitch in by bringing side dishes or drinks. Using apps to track discounts on non-perishable items or keeping an eye out for buy-one-get-one deals at grocery or discount stores are also easy ways to help stay within your budget.
Get creative on a budget
Even if your budget doesn’t increase, you can spread your wings beyond buffalo wings as your tailgating experience grows. Themes can make carefully budgeted tailgates feel more fun, and they’re popular with the pros: Bigham says, “We put together an ‘Eat Your Enemy’ theme for the teams we played. For New England, we’d do a seafood boil. New York, we did pastrami sandwiches.” Offering entertainment beyond food and drink can also liven up your tailgating area (and even attract fellow fans.)
Keep the rivalries friendly
Long-standing rivalries are a natural part of tailgating. And through this competitive spirit and good-natured trash-talking, genuine connections can be made. “It's amazing the different people you can meet and the conversations you can have by just saying hello and offering a drink (and maybe a sandwich),” says Tabika. Corrigan says her group always offers an invitation to the opposing team’s fans.
With good friends, the right location and a shared sport to root for, a successful tailgate can range from a bag of chips and a lawn chair to a gourmet spread and multiple TVs. Be sure to plan for whatever makes sense for your budget. “The tailgate is always more fun than the actual game,” notes Bigham, “and all the effort that goes into it is always so worth it.”
1 “Survey: Top Tailgating Trends of 2018,” Aug. 24, 2018, Offers.com
2 “How Much The Average Fan Spends On An NFL Tailgate,” Sep. 26. 2016, AskMen
3 “Tailgating Research,”2019, Tailgating.com
4 “The Affordability of Attending an NFL Game, City by City,” Sep. 11, 2017 ValuePenguin
5 “How Much Does It Cost to Run a Generator?” July 31, 2018, Assurance Power Systems
6 “GasPrice Charts—1 Month Average Retail Price Chart,” Sep. 12, 2019, GasBuddy7 “Bring HD TV With You Wherever You Travel,” 2019, DISH For My RV
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