Tailgating is no picnic in sports.
The business of pregame hospitality today requires an ever higher degree of premium service as corporate clients and college donors grow accustomed to more luxury at the game. Across the sports landscape and especially in football, where tailgating plays a pivotal role in the game-day experience, big league teams and colleges have stepped up their game to provide greater hospitality options outside the stadium walls.
As the quality level of pregame options rises, it’s no longer enough in some college markets to offer catered meals and tent space. Like the pros, schools compete against the couch at home, and to keep sponsor and donor revenue streams flowing, athletic departments are finding creative ways to add value to tailgating.
The newer trends focus on turnkey operations to provide worry-free, all-inclusive hospitality, leading to entrepreneurs such as Tailgate Guys, Block Party Suites, Boxlife and GameDay Traditions filling a niche in the college space.
Shipping container retrofits outside stadiums, starting last season at Texas Tech and expanding this year to Dallas, are designed to elevate pregame hospitality by providing the same comforts of home in a pregame setting.
“The viewing experience at home keeps getting better and we need to differentiate the on-campus experience,” SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart said.
Pop-up solutions on the premium side meet the demand of die-hard fans who may show up for the party with no intention of attending the game. Providing a premium tailgate experience for those willing to pay for it in some ways transcends the game itself.
Shipping containers and mini mansions
SMU Boulevard brings a fresh look this season for tailgating outside Gerald J. Ford Stadium. On game days, a half-dozen shipping containers themed in blue and red, the Mustangs’ colors, will sit along the main thoroughfare for pregame hospitality.
Learfield Sports signed a deal with a new company called
Block Party Suites. The 500-square-foot units accommodate 30 to 40 people. The portable suitesare equipped with furniture, two 55-inch satellite televisions, Bluetooth-enabled speakers, a fan system and custom signs. Dallas-based entrepreneur Adam Ward leases the containers to Learfield for $3,000 to $5,000 a unit for every home game. In turn, Learfield sells those spaces for $21,000 to $45,000 for season packages, or $3,500 to $7,900 for single games.
The high-end price for a single game for 40 people covers game tickets, catered food and an open bar. Early in the sales, two of the five portable suites were sold for the season and a third unit had been reserved for multiple games, Ward said.
The containers are one way for Learfield to “up its game” and boost inventory to help sell sponsorships, said Dustin Nichols, former general manager of Mustang Sports Properties, the firm doing business with SMU. Nichols signed the deal before leaving Learfield.
“For us, it was an opportunity to take what was already a very good setup in the Boulevard and make it a little bit better for corporate VIPs,” Nichols said. “The corporate clients want something where they can show up, hang out, go to the game and be done with it. It’s a little more higher end with corporate signage connected to the unit so you can brand it. It’s not just a flag.”
For SMU, Block Party Suites provides an option for large groups that the school did not previously offer, Hart said.
The school conducted surveys to find out how SMU could make it easier for all fans to attend more games, and officials believe the containers are one solution.