Now there’s a shock: tailgating at Alabama is turning into a pricey affair.
Meticulously arranged in perfect rows of plastic canopies, the Quad on Alabama’s campus becomes its own temporary city on football Saturdays in the fall.
Unlike the densely-packed hodgepodge tapestry of the Grove at Ole Miss, this is the model of uniformity as required by the University of Alabama.
It’s also a big business — for both the school and the private company that choreographs the whole thing every week.
These prime tailgating spots aren’t first come, first served like elsewhere in the football mad SEC. Schools like Alabama bid out the rights to this select real estate between the Denny Chimes and Gorgas Library.
The Tailgate Guys, an Auburn-based company that’s expanded to a dozen schools, now has the contract. It bought Tuscaloosa’s Game Day Tents after last season and got the exclusive rights to Alabama’s Quad and Presidential Park, a small plot behind fraternity houses a block from Bryant-Denny Stadium.
With it, prices have changed for the 2017 season.
Gone are the basic packages that fans like Billy Stewart’s group used for years. Instead, the high-end offerings with taller price tags replaced the $1,000 season-long package Stewart shared with friends. He estimated a comparable setup with as many as nine tents would cost somewhere approaching $30,000 for the 2017 season.
Whoa. This sounds like a familiar complaint.
“They’ve just gotten to the point where everything is about money and they’re squeezing,” said Stewart, a Chattanooga resident and Alabama alumnus. “They’ve already squeezed all the rank and file.”
Tailgate Guys president Parker Duffey said this was a move they all but had to make.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “but at the same time, it definitely is in the best interest for the system out there.”
If by “system”, he means his company and the school, he’s got that right.
The business model for this evolving industry isn’t as simple as rolling out the tents and setting up tables.
“A significant percentage that goes back to the school,” Duffey said. “It’s definitely a good thing for the school. They earn some healthy revenue on that.”
A look at the contract the tent company has with the University of Alabama offers some insight into how this business works — and perhaps why $1,000 tents for seven home games might not help the bottom line for UA or the Tailgate Guys.
After amendments were made for 2017, the Tailgate Guys pay a total of $76,000 per game for the right to sell the packages. That adds up to $532,000 a season to break even just on the land.
The university also gets 30 percent of the Tailgate Guys sales over $1 million for the spots on the Quad and nearby Presidential Park. That percentage Alabama receives doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent before the 2016 season. The per-game rate also went up $10,000.
Jeez. The only thing that’s honestly surprising about any of this is that Butts-Mehre hasn’t monetized the primo tailgating experience in Athens yet. To me, that seems like a lot of money to leave off the table simply because Michael Adams hated tailgaters, but what do I know?