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Sports Then and Now

How Tailgating Changed in 2020

Posted on April 15, 2021 by Martin Banks

For some folks, tailgating is akin to a religion. Fans show up in caravans and trailers the Friday night before the big game and make a weekend-long celebration — or used to do so.

Then, the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. Here’s how tailgating changed in 2020 and what new rituals you might consider keeping as things return to normal.

1. Elvis Has Left the Stadium

It was a sad year for sports stadiums. Instead of rows of roaring fans, they had silent cardboard cutouts standing watch while the real spectators tuned in from their living rooms.

Fortunately, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expects full stadiums this year, with no reduced capacities or closures foreseen. However, that doesn’t mean that every parking lot will fill to the brim on opening day. They might — cabin fever is a potent motivator — but many people will hesitate to return to crowded venues.

Others merely find they prefer the comforts of home. Unless you pay a king’s ransom, you can’t see much from many seats anyway. On television, you have instant replay and zoom.

Plus, you have full access to your indoor and outdoor kitchens, eliminating many food safety concerns. You need to keep foods like potato salad and ribs either cold or hot, respectively, which can pose challenges during transport. If they enter the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria can grow — and no one wants to get sick.

2. Changing Campus Rules

If college ball is more your game, you might discover that you can’t participate in traditional tailgating activities at all. Many colleges banned the practice outright in 2020, and the decrease in on-campus problems may convince some to keep restrictions in place even after vaccines produce herd immunity.

Other campuses may keep the celebrations but shorten the timeline. For example, in 2020, Clemson restricted tailgating to only those who had parking passes. Season ticket holders received individual game day passes instead of the traditional version to maintain crowd control. They also kept the lots closed until 8 a.m for an 8 p.m. game and required guests to leave instead of tailgating afterward.

3. Events Become More Formal

Other schools chose to limit tailgating by decreasing capacity in alignment with attendance restrictions. For example, LSU allowed a limited number of parking passes on campus for games and allowed attendees to loiter by their vehicles, sipping on food and drink. However, they couldn’t set up the tents and televisions that typify the school’s rich tailgating heritage.

Until all areas lift restrictions, you may encounter similar setups. If so, and you don’t get tickets, consider giving homegating a try. This trend offers considerable advantages over stadium tailgates:

  • It’s easier on the piggy bank: Game day tickets aren’t getting less expensive. Plus, you have to pay rising gas prices and parking fees, possibly road tolls.
  • It’s far less hassle and work: Tailgating requires you to pack everything up and unpack it. In addition to washing dishes, you have to schlep them back and forth from your car. If you have tons of gear, you could pull a muscle setting up a parking lot tailgate.
  • It’s more comfortable: No matter how comfortable your camp chairs are, they pale in comparison to your couch or lounger. Plus, you don’t have to worry about insects or sunburn if you have a screened-in patio for your game-watching pleasure.

4. Intimate Gatherings Get Cozier

One final advantage of moving the tailgate to your home court is cozier, more intimate gatherings. Yes, the party-like atmosphere on game day is a blast — but you also need to contend with intoxicated strangers causing drama at times. You control the guestlist for your castle.

You’ll probably find that folks naturally segregate when you homegate. You’ll have the diehard fans glued to the big screen, while those with less interest in the competition can socialize, play games and enjoy each other’s company in another room.

Tailgating Changed in 2020 — How Will You Adjust?

The great novel coronavirus pandemic changed the face of tailgating. As things gradually return to normal, which of the new traditions will you choose to keep?

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