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.