Tailgating seems like the perfect activity for visitors from overseas to take part in: it’s unique, fun, authentic (i.e. the locals actually do it) and it can provide some pretty memorable footage to look back on. Generally speaking, these things are also what people are looking for in their travel experiences.
(Plus, it is recommended frequently by sports fans on our site, regardless of the city they’re in. Look at these examples from different regions of the USA: North Carolina, Miami, NYC and Miami again).
But few travelers actually do tailgate. I’m putting that down to them (understandably) not knowing where to start when it comes to organising it as part of a trip.
It feels like a huge opportunity is being missed here, so we sought some expert advice and got to work on this.
Here’s our tailgating guide for traveling sports fans.
What is tailgating?
— JSOnline – Packers (@js_packers) January 10, 2016
This BBC article from a couple of years ago summed it up pretty well in ten words:
“beer and barbeque sessions in the car parks near stadiums”
That pretty much covers it. Tailgating usually happens at football games, but it could happen at nearly any sport (depending on the city). Fans will turn up to the stadium car park from as early as 8am on game day with BBQ equipment, food, drinks, games, and tables and chairs to be around other fans as they eat, drink and get excited for the game. After the game, many will stick around in their spots to wait for the post game traffic to thin out before packing up and leaving. It’s awesome.
But can you actually do it whilst traveling? (We asked an expert)
Tailgating seems like a great idea – but initially it seems difficult for a traveler to get involved. For starters, it takes place in a car park, and as a traveler you’re probably going to get there via public transport. Also, from the outside looking in, it looks like a tight-knit community that might not be all that easy to infiltrate.
Lee Hurley, Editor-in-Chief of Tailgater Monthly magazine, gave us this encouraging advice:
Tailgaters absolutely love to entertain strangers. This is what good tailgating is all about: Meeting new people. So be bold, walk up and say hello. It won’t be too hard to see which tailgaters are looking for new friends. The moment tailgaters hear the accent, that doubles the chances of being lavishly entertained. Traveling with a female? Triple the chances.
Good enough for me. We took that advice, ran with it, and did some further research…
Here is a planning checklist:
Let’s tick off all of the things you need to decide on and plan in order to tailgate in your next trip. For the sake of this exercise, we’re assuming that you already know the game that you want to go to.
“If you can convince your App users to go to a College Football game, they’ll send you Thank You notes.”
– Lee Hurley, Editor-in-Chief, Tailgater Monthly
ONE: Decide who you’re going with
If you’re traveling on your own or in a small group, the first thing you’ll want to know is that tailgating is considered a ‘welcoming community’. Even opposition fans are generally tolerated in good humour (….within reason). You could look into attending a tailgate-dedicated MeetUp in the area you’re in, or something similar. (FYI the third most popular MeetUp group on this list is ‘TailDating – Tailgate parties for Singles’. Awesome.)
It’s also worth checking Twitter, Facebook and the website for the event you’re going to, but we’ll get into that below.
If you’re traveling with a large group of 10-15 people, you could look into booking through a dedicated tour group. An example is this one from Buffalo. The benefits of this kind of deal are that you leave much of the organising to the tour group operators and you will have your own ‘space’ on the day. On the flipside, these can be pretty expensive, and you might be missing the ‘authentic’ feel that you’re after on your trip. Your call.
TWO: See if the venue you’re attending has a policy on Tailgating
Most stadiums have a section on their website where they outline the rules and regs of attending a game there, and they’ll generally have a reference to tailgating there, too. For example, MetLife Stadium has tailgating under their ‘Parking lot guidelines’ and the Baltimore Ravens official site has a page dedicated to giving you tailgating tips. On the flipside, Dodger Stadium prohibits any tailgating before or after baseball games there, so it is pretty essential to check the policy of the stadium first.
THREE: Check the tips for the venue on SWiAM
(You knew this was coming…)
After you’ve checked out the official policies of the stadium, have a look on Sports Where I Am to see if any other questions about tailgating at the venue have been asked by other sports fans. (Hint: If you click on ‘see all tips’ for a venue, you can then search for the keyword ‘tailgate’ to find relevant tips). If they haven’t covered it yet, ask a question of your own, as this will help other people who are trying the same thing down the track.
“Southern tailgaters are more welcoming at first, but Northern tailgaters will love you for life once you break the ice.”
– Lee Hurley, Editor-in-Chief, Tailgater Monthly
FOUR: Find a supporter group and ask them for some advice
Most clubs have some kind of official or unofficial supporter group, and these guys focus on planning things like the gameday tailgate parties. If you contact one of these groups well before the game and explain that you’re visiting from overseas, you’re likely to be given the most useful advice from people who attend these events regularly. This ‘Tailgate Hall of Fame’ page might point you in the direction of a relevant supporter group for your game. Tailgater Monthly also said they would help any of our SWiAM users connect with a relevant tailgating group if needed, so you should contact them through Facebook or Twitter.
In Lee’s words:
Look for Facebook pages and other information about tailgating once you pick where you want to go. Some tailgates invite you in advance and ask for people to sign up or let them know you are coming. Others ask you to chip in $25 and food and drink is free.
— Roaring Riot (@roaringriot) February 3, 2016
All teams like to expand their reach worldwide, and all sports fans like to recruit overseas visitors to their home team for life. Which leads me to the next point…
FIVE: Have a positive impact on international relations
Lee’s most interesting advice came when he started talking about what to wear. As expected, he said to wear something to show support to the home team, but he also suggested that wearing the uniform of a team from your home country could be a good ice-breaker:
Try wearing the home team’s jersey or t-shirt. Or better yet, wear your favorite soccer jersey. You may end up trading. Bring a small gift to leave with your new friends. A piece of candy for the kids, cigar, anything small to say thanks. No one will expect it but they will certainly appreciate it. Anything from your home will be cherished.
SIX: Buy your tickets – and check if you need a parking permit
Depending on the venue, you might need to pre-purchase a parking lot permit in order to get involved in tailgating. Some other venues simply go by ‘first in’ on the day. This is something else you’ll need to be mindful of when you’re sorting your tickets.
SEVEN: Do it! This could be you:
Send through any of your tailgating photos, stories, questions or advice to firstname.lastname@example.org