Bringing drinks, food, and friends to party outside of a stadium — or tailgating as it’s known to most fans — is typically associated with football. Astonishingly, though, the activity actually predates the sport by nearly eight years.
The American Tailgaters Association claims that the first instance of tailgating was ahead of the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War in 1861. Spectators set up their wagons in a nearby field complete with booze and snacks to watch the clash.
Tailgating and football intersected in 1869 when the sport was invented. Today many college and pro football fans put more emphasis on the tailgate than on the game itself. If you’re hosting a tailgate, the expense and pressure can feel overwhelming. But, don’t stress because we’ve got seven ways to make sure your tailgate is of championship caliber.
Bring the Noise with Portable, Affordable Speakers
The best tailgates always have a soundtrack. Choosing a speaker, battery life, Bluetooth compatibility, and price are important factors. Bluetooth is an especially vital feature because you don’t want to be tripping over wires at your tailgate.
The ultra-portable Bose Soundlink Color II speaker checks off all those boxes and is water resistant to boot. It sells for around $130, but is built to Bose sound quality and durability standards, meaning it can last for many football seasons to come. Plus, you can often find coupon codes for Bose products that can help shave a little off that investment.
Get a Team-Themed Tent & You’ll Have It Made in the Shade
A durable tent can help protect you from the sun and the rain, which can extinguish a bustling tailgate in a few short minutes. While a cheap canopy may last until your team’s bye week, consider a more sturdy version that’ll last much longer.
Fanatics.com has a wide selection of well-built canopies emblazoned with the graphics of NFL and college teams. And to help it fit more into your budget, apply a Fanatics coupon code at checkout to save on your team-themed tent.
Pro Tip: Some canopies even incorporate your tailgate into the structure, giving you a shaded place to congregate, while keeping everything accessible.
A Portable Grill Will Help Get Everyone Fired Up
If you are planning to provide more than finger foods at your tailgate, invest in a portable grill. The prices range from under $20 for a bare-bones charcoal model up to nearly $500 for a six-burner propane powerhouse.
No matter what level of portable grill you choose, look out for promo codes and deals from retailers like Home Depot. They discount them throughout the year and also offer special promotions around certain holidays.
As for what to grill, some of the most cost-effective items to cook for a crowd include chicken thighs, drumsticks, burgers, and hot dogs. A little protein at your tailgate can go a long way in helping stave off hunger during the game.
Slather on the Sunscreen for Midday Tailgates
You may remember to apply sunscreen before you head out to the tailgate. But its effectiveness wears off after a few hours if you don’t reapply. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends putting sunscreen on 30 minutes before going outside and reapplying every two hours.
Football games typically last over three hours, and that doesn’t include the time you spend tailgating. So you’ll want to have sunscreen on hand. Consider buying in bulk. Try a quart-size container with a pump from Rocky Mountain Sunscreen and keeping it in the back of your car for your guests to use. You can even find coupon codes to save money while also saving your skin from a nasty burn.
Pro Tip: If you’re a real planner, you can set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to reapply sunscreen every few hours.
Find (or Make) Games to Get the Competitive Juices Flowing
Nearly every time I go to a tailgate, I see a new game to compete in to pass the time. Alongside typical pre-game traditions, like cornhole, beer pong, horseshoes, and ladder toss, are newer entrants such as KanJam and Spikeball.
Many of these games are readily available at big-box retailers. At stores like Target, and you can even find some licensed game merchandise to support your team. Often, team-branded games come at a premium cost. But finding a Target promo code can help you save on a great cornhole set.
Pro Tip: If a cornhole or ladder toss set is out of your budget, don’t fret. They’re both easy to make yourself. Building a cornhole set takes a little woodworking know-how, but ladder toss is fairly simple to construct.
Tailgating is a Team Sport, So Have Your Friends Pitch In
Think of yourself as the quarterback of the tailgate and your guests as other members of the offense. While you run much of the show, you should be able to count on your teammates to contribute.
Drinks can be an enormous expense, especially if you are expecting a bunch of people. So, asking guests to bring a six-pack of their favorite beer or a half-gallon jug of sweet tea can add up in the long run.
Many times, your friends won’t be able to drive directly to your tailgate because you’ll be parked in an area packed with cars hours before they arrive. Consider such parking restrictions when asking for contributions. Also ask for help with items that can be easily carried on a long walk, such as paper plates, cups, or napkins.
Invest in a Good Cooler to Keep Drinks Cold for Seasons to Come
A good cooler should easily last you through multiple football seasons. If well-cared for, it could last for decades.
Your choices here range from the simple styrofoam cooler found at local grocery stores to the Orion 45, which can keep your drinks cold for a week. It also comes with a 10-year warranty.
While there are plenty of cooler options between these extremes, a higher price usually means greater functionality and durability. You might find it more beneficial to invest in a durable $380 Yeti Tundra 50 instead of a cheaper version that barely makes it until December.
Win the Day — Before Your Team Even Steps onto the Field
While tailgating may have started when Virginia civilians loaded their wagons with food and drink to watch a Civil War battle, I’m happy that it’s now associated with football.
Tailgating is a great way to have fun and spend time with other fans as the anticipation for the game itself builds.
And while there’s no guarantee your team will win the game, if you throw a high-quality tailgate party without draining your bank account, you will feel like you’ve won well before your team comes running out of the tunnel.
Guest Post by Jon McDonald
Jon writes for various savings-oriented publications across the web, including DealCrunch.com and BadCredit.org. He also has more than 15 years of experience editing, writing, and designing — mostly in the sports department — for newspapers owned by The New York Times. In a previous life, Jon curated sports and entertainment memorabilia auctions for a high-end collectibles business. Currently, he enjoys watching sports, taking family road trips, and helping others save money in their everyday lives.