Having to cancel tailgate plans? Try 'Bargates' or Vols parties delivered to your door
Good food, good times and a shared love for the Vols are what's important to avid Tennessee tailgaters. Being at Circle Park outside Neyland Stadium or in the heart of downtown Knoxville are just added amenities.
That's why one Knoxville business and a local nonprofit are keeping the Tennessee tradition alive, despite a major reduction in stadium capacity, by offering meetups to support local businesses and packages that bring tailgate parties to people's homes.
A 'win-win' idea for business and fans
Tailgating is a revenue source for All Occasions Party Rentals, which sets up game-day tents and amenities for fans at Circle Park through its Tailgate Tennessee brand.
Terry Turner, president of All Occasions, said employees began brainstorming ideas to host tailgates safely during COVID-19 with limited attendance and hand sanitizing stations.
It soon became clear that traditional tailgating just wasn't going to work, Turner told Knox News, and "the innovation came from desperation, so to speak."
"We felt like there's going to be 75,000 people who aren't going to each game," he said. "How could we help them be able to have their small group or family gathering at their locale?"
That's when the at-home tailgating packages came to mind.
"It's a win-win," Turner said. "We can generate some revenue, and we can continue the tailgate celebration associated with Tennessee football. And we can do it in a capacity that's safer with smaller crowds and give them an opportunity to be outside."
Relax ... 'we make it happen'
The at-home concept is fairly simple. For $695, Tailgate Tennessee will provide a large tent, tables, chairs, a cooler and a TV.
People set up parties like this in their yards and driveways all the time, but Tailgate Tennessee provides a "much more festive environment," Turner said.
"I think it's just ease," he said. "You make the phone call, we show up, we make it happen."
Turner said it's also about supporting small businesses. All Occasions has been providing tents for restaurants and COVID-19 testing sites, but business is just not the same.
"It's certainly been a challenge, but we're going to battle through it," he said. "We think we'll still be in business on the other side of this thing. We just got to keep our heads up."
Home or away, it's time to tailgate
The tent is not your average pop-up model found at the local sporting goods store. It covers 400 square feet. The TV is 55 inches, the cooler is 120 quarts and the setup can seat 20 people.
"By no means are we condoning large gatherings and things of that nature, but we just feel like there's going to be a need," Turner said. "And we do feel like the safest and best place to be is outside if you're going to gather. ... These aren't gatherings for large groups of people."
Fans must provide their own food, except for a dozen complimentary treats from Nothing Bundt Cakes, and have their own TV provider. Tailgate Tennessee just provides the screen and 100 feet of cable to connect inside the house.
"Something that came out of it that we didn't really think about going in: When we think of tailgating in Knoxville, we think of home games," Turner said. "But this gives people an opportunity to tailgate away games."
Tailgating for a Cause raising the bars
While home games meant good business for All Occasions during normal times, that wasn't always the case for other local businesses.
Bars and restaurants do well serving pregame meals and celebratory drinks after a Vols win. But during the games, according to Tailgating for a Cause board member Matt McMillan, business could be slow with 100,000 people inside Neyland Stadium.
"All these bars and restaurants and breweries that have supported us with donations through the years ... now, when they need it, we're trying to put our memberships and fans together to put some rear ends in their seats as well," he said.
Tailgating for a Cause normally sells memberships for its game-day parties at Circle Park, benefiting charities like CureDuchenne and First Tee of Greater Knoxville.
But this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the nonprofit will try "bargating" instead, McMillan said.
For the first game Sept. 26, Tailgating for a Cause planned a pregame party at the Barrel Room in Elkmont Exchange and a watch party at Maple Hall.
Tailgating for a Cause is keeping the prices low to balance raising money for charitable causes with supporting local businesses. Hosting these parties at responsible businesses should ensure COVID-19 guidelines will be followed, McMillan said.
"Food and beverage, just sharing that before the game, is always just a big piece (of tailgating), and I think that's still something folks crave," he said. "Yeah, it's going to be different. But I think the core thing is still going to be there, in a sense, without quite as big of a crowd to manage."
Tailgating is 'part of the pageantry'
Tailgating is limited on campus by the University of Tennessee and on city property. The city is prohibiting tailgating entirely in city-owned parking garages and lots, as well as placing limits on the layout of Vol Navy boats.
The university is banning large gatherings, asking fans to limit their tailgates to family and people who plan to sit together. Parking lots open four hours before kickoff, and only permit holders can park on campus.
Fans also are encouraged to wear masks, except when eating, and maintain proper social distancing. No university-sponsored tailgates will happen this year, and a full list of guidelines is available at utsports.com.
Needless to say, this is quite different than the sea of orange Knoxville is used to on game days. But that doesn't mean fans have to forget about football festivities.
Tailgating for a Cause is putting the "fun in fundraising" with its "bargate" plans, McMillan said, and Turner is helping provide a familiar alternative to traditional tailgating in a safe manner.
“I do think it's such a longstanding tradition and part of the pageantry of Tennessee football and all of college football, really, to be able to gather, whether your group is big or small, and socialize," Turner said. "We were just looking to innovate and keep the tradition of tailgating alive."
To learn more about these tailgating concepts, visit tailgatetennessee.com and tntfac.com. Book an at-home tailgate package by calling 865-588-1131.