Levi's Stadium - Santa Clara, California

Super Bowl 50 won’t be so super for tailgaters


You might recall we published on our flagship tailgating blog in 2009 the blog post Tailgating Banned At The Super Bowl. That article hat garnered quite a bit of attention including a phone call from the NFL’s Brian McCarthy. Apparently as the Super Bowl moves to different host cities and venues that have not hosted a Super Bowl in a while, those in the local market tend to forget or are naive of the NFL’s longstanding policy of banning “traditional” tailgating at the Super Bowl.

NBC Bay Area: No Tailgating at Levi’s Stadium For Super Bowl 50

“This isn’t anything new,” says Brian McCarthy, NFL vice president of corporate communications, who traces the ban on Super Sunday cookouts to security concerns arising from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Fans can still tailgate at a Super Bowl, but in a different form.” McCarthy says that form involves a prohibition against having a lit flame in a grill, erecting tents or other sheltering structures, or basically eating or drinking anything outside your vehicle.

After learning that tailgating had been banned outside MetLife Stadium for the Super Bowl two years ago, one fan described its absence to the New York Daily News. “Not tailgating at a football game is like Thanksgiving without turkey and Halloween without trick or treating,” he said. “As soon as you enter the parking lot, the first thing you smell is the charcoal grill going. You smell it before you see anything. Not having it sterilizes the whole experience. What are you going to do? Bring a sub from Subway?”

That would be entirely permissible, inasmuch as Subway is one of the longtime advertisers that recently helped push the NFL’s annual corporate sponsorship revenue past $1 billion. “Just have it in your vehicle,” McCarthy cautions cold cut consumers.

Truly living up to their nickname of the NFL standing for the “No Fun League”, the NFL is truly hypocritical. How can the NFL encourage millions of fans to tailgate prior to every game during the season, including the playoffs, but ban tailgating before the Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl is a different animal in that half of the parking lot at any host stadium is eaten up by “The NFL Experience”, a giant interactive NFL theme park. This leaves limited room for real fans to park and tailgate because those remaining spaces need to be reserved for corporate buses and limos shuttling VIPs (Read: people who paid a ton of money to the NFL) to the game. Why leave any parking spaces for the real fans that want to tailgate when your NFL theme park can charge $25 for kids and $35 for adult admission?

On game day, the NFL has hosted an NFL “Tailgate Party” but there is no tailgating recognizable to anyone who has tailgated once. It is a big catering tent with catered food and hosted bars served by waiters wandering in between corporate cronies with Super Bowl tickets proudly hanging from lanyards. Let’s make sure that the grub and libations all are from NFL approved and officially sponsored food and beverage companies. Just ensure me that the final seven figure check clears before we start serving. Gee, sounds like an awesome tailgate to me.

The truth is, the Super Bowl is not a game made for the fan in the stadium. It is a made for TV event that was bought and paid for years ago. The NFL gets away with it because, well, they can. They know you won’t get so up in arms that you will not watch the Super Bowl on TV. They know you will watch the commercials and get excited about whatever pop artist they will trot out for halftime.

Until the fans change their behavior that the NFL can sense, it will continue to be business as usual. No matter if the NFC or AFC representing team wins or loses, the real fans and tailgaters are the big losers on Super Bowl Sunday while the NFL laughs all the way to the bank.