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Tailgate Picnic Show


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Tailgaters get ready for a Buffalo Bills game

The Numbers Speak for Themselves
Tailgaters Gobbling Up a Major Slice of the Licensed Sports Pie
January 9, 2007

With more than 20 million Americans expected to eat, drink and be merry in a stadium parking lot sometime this year, tailgating has transcended cultural phenomenon status and moved right into the realm of economic powerhouse. According to John Largent, founder and president of the American Tailgaters Association (ATA), tailgating participation has risen by 12 percent a year for at least the last five years. He also says the 20 million figure may be deceptively low—studies with the broadest criteria have set the number of tailgaters in North America as high as 51 million.

“Whatever number you feel is correct, the important thing to remember is that the typical tailgater spends between $200 and $500 a year on products specific to tailgating,” says Largent. “This covers an incredible breadth of products and services across a lot of consumer categories, and does not even include game day supplies and accessories.”

Card-carrying ATA members in Denver

The numbers become even more appealing when one considers the demographics of tailgating and picnicking. Though the percentages differ by sport, by far the largest group of dedicated tailgaters is made up of males between the ages of 18 and 44. There aren’t many chances nowadays to catch this sought-after demographic at a time when they are: a) strongly influencing major purchasing decisions; b) highly receptive to marketing messages; and c) can quickly be converted into customers.

Perhaps no one has developed a blueprint in this regard better than Johnsonville, whose brats are ubiquitous everywhere from NASCAR infields to NFL parking lots. Recognizing the value of marketing its product at a point of need, the company began rolling into tailgating venues with its 65-foot Big Taste Grill, which can cook up to 2,500 brats per hour.

Since roughly 90 percent of tailgating involves some sort of grilling, and 100 percent involves beverage consumption, the companies that make products related to these categories have been players in the tailgating market for many years. Coleman’s top-of-the-line RoadTrip Grill is a particular favorite of the parking lot crowd, as is Igloo’s Audio Cooler, which plays a team’s college fight song each time the lid is opened. The Thermos Fire and Ice combines both grilling and beverage cooling in the same unit. Smaller companies pushing the envelope in pursuit of the diehard tailgater include UnderDevelopment Inc., maker of the Beer Belly, and Masterbuilt, which makes an outdoor deep fryer.

The Big Taste Grill

These are tailgating no-brainers, of course. A more interesting connection to the tailgating phenomenon is the one established by Campbell’s for its Chunky Soups several years ago. Although canned soup is consumed by tailgaters, it is not a staple tailgating item per se. Yet Campbell’s has made a connection with this high-spirited demographic which has spilled over (no pun intended) into countless kitchens during weekday meals.

Notable in their absence from the tailgate-specific marketing picture are the licensed clothing and accessory companies. Tailgaters are head-to-toe buyers of licensed wearables, so perhaps this is a customer apparel makers feel they don’t have to aggressively chase. As long as they make functional products in team colors, the market should keep coming to them. This does not, however, relieve the retailer from courting tailgaters. On the contrary, the more storeowners and managers understand the market—and the more they demonstrate an understanding of the market—the easier it will be to create new and loyal customers.

For example, tailgaters dress in multiple layers, peeling off or adding items as the day progresses. The same fan may start the day in rainproof outerwear and end it in shorts and a tee shirt. He or she may wear one item for cooking, another for eating, yet another for tossing a ball around the parking lot, and another still in the stadium. In-store merchandising that speaks to this ritual—and includes licensed headwear, footwear, apparel, collectibles, etc.—would be enormously attractive to diehard tailgaters, as well as the “rookies” who make impulse purchases on game day.

“Very few retailers are promoting products to tailgaters, even though they may already carry them in their stores,” confirms ATA CEO Kevin Joyce. “There are great opportunities and great rewards for those who bring these products together in a seasonal display based on tailgating.”

Hardware and grocery stores have already begun to merchandise to the serious tailgater, adding everything from cookbooks to licensed products—all of which represent valuable incremental sales. Mass merchants may not be far behind. Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shops and Target have created online tailgating shops, and it is only a matter of time until these merchandising concepts find their way onto the selling floor.

Meanwhile, the more refined (and equally promising) picnic market has also created opportunities for a wide range of retailers. Products that heat, cool or protect food and beverages have become extremely sophisticated—both from a technology and eye-appeal standpoint. And the prepared food category is no longer the exclusive domain of the grocery store or deli. Where consumers buy their picnicking supplies, they are likely to purchase non-perishable food items, too.

For sporting goods stores, both Largent and Joyce believe that creating an area dedicated to tailgaters and picnickers would open up opportunities to sell branded grills and coolers, food products, and hard goods they don’t sell now—while boosting sales of licensed apparel and gear.

Ann Keusch, Show Manager of the Sports Licensing & Entertainment Marketplace and Tailgate·Picnic Show, agrees.

“At the Tailgate • Picnic Show, retailers saw the potential of the tailgating marketplace. They were bowled over by the energy and passion of these consumers, and through ideas like our sports licensing and tailgating concept shop, they got a feel for the kind of merchandising needed to capture this customer.”




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