Australia, why don’t we Tailgate?

If ever there was something that seemed so Australian, it’s tailgating. And we don’t do it!

What’s tailgating, you ask. Well it is not driving too close to the car in front of you, if that’s what you are thinking.

On a trip to the US in 2016, I made my way to multiple events that had Tailgates set up. I stumbled across the first one by accident. I had a ticket to the Stanford Cardinal College Football game, with the kickoff at 12:30pm. I also needed to meet with their marketing manager, who asked to meet at 6:30am, as game days, in her words, are ‘crazy long and alcoholic’.

I turned up to the carpark at about 6:15am, to find a large amount of spaces already taken. They weren’t like Australian sporting event carparks, where marshals force you to park so close to the next car that you need to exit via the window, no – these marshals were giving them a ‘maximum setup space’, and people were setting up BBQ’s, fridges, esky’s, TV’s, ballgames and deck chairs.

At the completion of my meeting, I was taken to a Craft Beer and Brekky event within the Tailgate. That’s right, as many craft beers as I wanted at 7:30am, to go with my stripped bacon, eggs, waffles and deep fried chicken.

But I didn’t stay too long, as there was so much more going on around the carpark. I just walked around, meeting amazing people, and being invited into their setups. Most setups had about 7-10 people present, but the community feel was alive and well, with plenty of people coming and going in and out of everyone’s setups. There were games of sack throwing, some weird game that could be best described as throwing weighted string at an indoor clothesline, and loads more. Some setups even had prizes for those who won their game. It was quite bizarre.

Some were families, some were mates, alumni, work colleagues, neighbours, but all were in high spirits, and extremely friendly.

By 10am, the place was packed. but suddenly a rush of people headed toward another area on the campus. They lined the walkway from the tailgate to the stadium as the players arrived. The marching band led them in, and a crowd of thousands cheered them into the arena.

Once the team had entered, and the crowd headed back to the carpark, I noticed a whole other area, another carpark, that had another tailgate setup, but this one was huge. Not only did they have the individual setups, they had companies giving away free stuff, food vans as far as you could see, merchandise stores, both licensed and not, and so much more. In the middle of all of it, there were some portable grandstands. I went in to see what was going on, and the College were having a Wrestling competition between their team and the team from Oregon, who they were playing in the football. Just awesome.

I made my way into the stadium in time for kickoff, but the stadium looked pretty empty. Confused, I asked someone nearby where everyone was. They said that most people don’t leave the tailgate until at least the end of the 1st quarter, some not til the second half, and depending on the how the tailgate, and the game, is going, some not at all!

A couple of days later, I went to Levi’s Stadium to watch the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. Again, on arrival, the carpark was full with mindblowing setups. But they also offered a paid tailgate, called the Red Zone Rally. It cost $80, and included free food and drink, including all alcohol. They also had plenty of activities setup, like kicking through the goals, throwing a touchdown pass, meeting the cheerleaders, mascots etc. and even a ride on a rollercoaster. The food hall had hundreds of TV screens up with all the other NFL games being played live across the country.

Finally, I went to the Rose Bowl to watch UCLA football, and again, it was an all day affair. I came home with that much free fan gear, many would assume I attended UCLA as a student.

Now I reflect on the last live football game I went to in Australia, and I remember remarking on how good it was that they had a paid for jumping castle outside the stadium for our kids. That was the pre-match entertainment. Meanwhile the NRL scratch their heads on why the stadiums aren’t selling out.

With one exception, I have never seen pre-game, mid-game or post-game entertainment that is memorable in Australia. I have been to Grand Finals, State of Origins, AFL, NRL, Big Bash, Rugby World Cups, A-League, Socceroo World Cup Qualifiers – nothing. Often the best entertainment you get is the fans, which is great, but what are the venues and the sports administrators doing?

That exception? In December I went to my first NBL game. It was the best sports event I have ever been to in Australia. The game was good, but you were entertained from 60 minutes prior to tip off, right through til 20 minutes after the final whistle. I imagine not many people would think that the NBL is the winner, but as far as atmosphere and entertainment, it is streaks ahead in this country.

Simply relying on the game itself is not good enough. The tailgate experience is an all day affair that has the game as the cherry on top. In order to be at the tailgate you needed a ticket to the game, but if a ticket to the game means a whole day of entertainment, suddenly the cost of that ticket doesn’t seem that high.

Surely there are venues that could provide this type of experience in Australia. Yes you need space around the arena, which some don’t have, but a lot do. Whether they are carparks, training fields, Schools, anything that could bring this sort of atmosphere to Australian sport, and I guarantee, the tickets will sell better, the grounds will be fuller, and the fanbases will grow.

It is worth noting that there are some Colleges in the USA (that’s right, Colleges, not NFL teams) that have sold out their arenas for every game over consecutive YEARS! Nebraska have an 80,000 seat stadium, that has been sold out every game since 1954. They have the longest streak, but certainly not the only streak.

What do you think? Can this ever happen in Australia, if not, why not? Comment below.

UFC 222 – What we learned…

Here we look back at the recent UFC event and dive into what we now know moving forward after the event. Let’s begin…

Cyborg is undoubtedly the greatest female fighter in the history of MMA.

But this was something we already knew. Gina Carano was the first women’s fighter to put the sport on the map with the perfect blend of beauty outside of the cage and ferocity inside of it.

Ronda Rousey took that to the next level as she ran through the women’s bantamweights in the UFC collecting arms for her trophy cabinet. Both are pioneers of the sport, however ran into hurdles with brutal losses to top contenders with styles that the casual MMA fan already had questions about.

Cyborg is yet to run into her hurdle. Not only is she yet to run into her hurdle, but she looks better and better with every performance. There were brief moments of challenge with the Invicta Bantamweight Champion Kunitskaya taking her to the ground, however Cyborg was able to easily get to her feet and find the TKO finish late in the first round.

Only one challenge looms for Cyborg in the UFC – current UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes. Both possess the power, striking and pressure to put on an amazing fight for as long as it would last. With Cyborg having a few more tools in her tool belt in the wrestling and Ju-Jitsu game, it could be interesting to see how she would approach this fight. Hopefully it gets put together for the middle of the year.

Brian Ortega is the real deal

I have been a little hesitant to get on the T-city bandwagon. He has shown phenomenal Ju-Jitsu against opponents that he was clearly levels above. Slowly but surely his striking began to improve, but still not to the level of the top featherweights in the division – the likes of an Aldo, Stephens or Holloway.

His first impressive performance that caught my eye was against ‘Killer’ Cub Swanson, when he caught him in a standing guillotine. If you want to see a man tapping with what appeared to be his life flashing before his eyes then I suggest looking it up! He was able to negate the striking ability of Swanson and looked very comfortable in the exchanges.

At UFC 222 we were given something even more spectacular. He was able to breeze past the small flurries of a very busy Edgar to time a beautiful left elbow in a messy exchange to daze the veteran. In his daze, T-city was able to land one of the most brutal uppercuts I have witnessed in a long time to put Edgar out for the first time in his UFC career.

Before moving on, I must say that my heart broke for Frankie Edgar. He was supposed to be fighting for the Featherweight Championship that night and due to an injury to the champion Max Holloway, he took the risk to fight an up and coming contender. In a win-lose situation he lost big. This does now set up a fight between two young, fantastic featherweights for the belt later this year that I personally cannot wait for.

The future  could  be bright

Brian Ortega was not the only rising star the UFC gave the opportunity to shine at UFC 222. The young Ju-Jitsu whiz kid of Mackenzie Dern got the nod by split decision over a very game Ashley Yoder. We also had the exciting Sean O’Malley win by decision in what was later awarded fight of the night honours. I did preface this though by saying that the future ‘could’ be bright.

Although the UFC are banking on these two becoming megastars, they both displayed areas in which immediate addressing is required. Dern could not get the fight were she needed it. Against a relative unknown in Yoder she was unable to get the single leg takedown that she so desperately appeared to need. With the misses came wild exchanges from Dern that made her striking look like something you would see out the front of a busy MacDonald’s once the night club had closed. Dern did get Yoder to the mat for a few moments and looked like a python – however this moment was brief. She is an expert on the ground, she needs to find a way to get the fight there or else her UFC career will be short lived.

On the other hand, we were treated to the beginning of the ‘Sugar’ era in the coming out party for Sean O’Malley! The kid reminds me of a young Jon Jones – long and rangy for the division with all the striking flair in the world. He was putting all of his tricks out there for the world to see and I must say I enjoyed what I saw. It was not perfection. Connor McGregor famously said after his knockout of Aldo that precision beats power and timing beats speed. Sugar looked fast and powerful, however the strikes were not landing as cleanly as he would have liked. He needs to slow it down just a tad and be more selective with his strikes. If not, he will run into any of the top 15 bantamweights and run into a lot of issues.

Side Note – his opponent Andre Soukhamthath will forever have the title of ‘dumbest’ UFC fighter after deciding to take O’Malley down with two minutes left in the fight when he clearly could not stand on an injured foot. If Andre had stood up and the referee could see that O’Malley had a broken foot and could not stand then he would have been awarded the win. But alas, he did not and the Sugar train rolls on. I look forward to seeing what we get next with all of the young blood in the UFC!


What to make of the Lakers resurgence

Full disclosure, I’m a Lakers fan. Have been since Magic Johnson was the figurehead of the ‘Showtime Era’.

The last few years have been hard, and while it has been great to hear about the possibilities of a LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins heading their way, what has been even greater is the Lakers resurgence since the All-Star break.

The good things to come from the last few awful seasons, is a playing roster that is young, improving and exciting to watch. Add to that the trade that brought Isaiah Thomas to the club, and the experience of Brook Lopez in the paint, and on the perimeter, the Lakers, along with the Sixers, are the teams that have the most growth potential of any club.

What keeps circling my head is, would I be happier with the squad we have being left to grow, and become a young, exciting powerhouse over the next 2-4 years?

Or, do I want LeBron and co. to join, and see the Lakers be a powerhouse next year?

The issue with the second option is, that even if we landed all three of those guys, they’ll all be gone in 4 years, and the only thing to get excited about will be the Draft lottery again.

While the general consensus is that LeBron would be great for these youngsters, and I agree that he would, I don’t think that is the issue.

The issue is, with all their cap space tied up in LeBron and Co, it is hard to see how they can re-sign Julius Randle when he hits free agency this off-season. Randle must be considered for Player of the Week almost every week at the moment, no Lakers fan wants to let him go.

This will be a problem the Lakers will face every year with their young prospects coming off their rookie contracts.

It is an uneasy topic, but the last few years of Kobe Bryant’s career weren’t stellar, and I would imagine most Lakers fans have that, as well as the Dwight Howard experiment, fairly close to the front of their minds. Is that what we will get with LeBron? Can he continue to be ‘the king’ into his later 30’s?

So as a fan, this is my conundrum. Do I hope that the Lakers invest in their current success, and re-sign Thomas, Randle and keep building? Or do we add the worlds best player, and a couple of other all-stars, and have a serious tilt at 2018-19?

I tend to lean towards the former. It could be a dynasty for years to come.

What do you think? Like, share, leave a comment.