Oct 22, 2013 12:11PM ● Published by tina
By Catherine Adcock, Deputy Editor
As long as America has had vehicles with rears to unload, it’s had the pastime of tailgating. Today, though, tailgating has evolved to more than just an opportunity to dine before an event; it’s become a destination unto itself.
“People have been going to sporting events and cooking food going back to the 1920s,” says sportswriter Mark Stewart, a member of the Tailgating Industry Association. Plenty actually opt to forgo the game altogether, instead enjoying the camaraderie of a parking lot grill-out. “The people who do tailgate are extremely passionate, and they care more about the tailgating experience than the game,” Stewart explains. “It really becomes an all-consuming thing.”
Like any great tradition, the tailgating experience centers on food. “You simply can’t have a great party without food,” says Kyle Clark, owner of Rusted Truck Ranch. “It brings people together. Plus, you need fuel to make it through that three-hour game.”
Combine that with professional sports, and you’ve got a double-whammy of pure Americana. “You have a culture that is very obsessed with sports; that is very obsessed with food,” Stewart says. “Tailgating is where you marry these two things.”
As times have changed, so has the tailgating experience. Truck beds have evolved into RVs; Smokey Joes into custom BBQ rigs; radio broadcasts into satellite TVs.
“I would say over the last 10 to 15 years, there’s been a steady increase in the number of people tailgating and in the amount of money being spent,” says Stewart, who adds that many value the tailgating industry at about $10 billion. “Even in the lean years, during the financial crisis, everything seemed to be growing.”
All of this change is due, in no small part, to the unending desire amongst tailgaters to bring the best of the best to the parking lot before the game.
“There’s a real spirit of competition, not only camaraderie; everyone wants the new thing, whether it’s a jacket or an electronic item, a sauce, a cooking implement, a new grill,” Stewart says. “Everyone is really deeply fascinated by what everyone else has.”
According to Stewart, hot trends amongst tailgaters include the concept of home tailgating as well as environmentally friendly tailgating. “They will throw sports parties in their backyard and turn it into a tailgating party,” he says. “I also think that you’re starting to see people a little more environmentally concerned. When you’re burning stuff, you’re leaving something behind.”
The community and camaraderie of tailgating keeps it going year after year and keeps people in the lot instead of at the game.
“Tailgaters will cook for 40 to 50 people,” Stewart says. “There’s a communal, social factor that is really, really important.”