“Turn out the lights… the party’s over”
Although the song was originally sung by Willie Nelson, “Dandy” Don Meredith popularized it during Monday Night Football when it was apparent one team had the game in hand. Sadly, that song is being sung again. This time it is for the Margaritaville Tailgating Grill
It seems as though the run for this tailgating grill has come to an unceremonious end after only being on the market for about three years. The story of how the Margaritaville Tailgating Grill came about has some twists and turns. I am not sure if I am liberty to disclose all the details but here is a brief history as to how this tailgating grill is becoming one of the most hard to find pieces of tailgating gear anywhere.
In order to give the history of the Margaritaville Grill, we need to tell the story of Freedom Grill. Freedom Grill was the brainchild of Scott Salter when his idea for a grill that attaches to the rear of your car was born out of necessity in 2002. He was going to go tailgating and was stopped by his wife who did not want him to put his backyard grill in the back of their newly purchased SUV. The thought of an old, dirty grill dripping grill grease in the back of a brand new SUV necessitated a new type of grill. That is when Salter came up with the concept of a grill that would ride on the outside of a car, be accessible to the griller off the ground and to swing away from the vehicle to allow access to unfold the tailgate or lift up the gate on an SUV.
In 2004, the first product was known as the Freedom Grill FG-100 which was more of a heavy duty grill that more resembled a backyard grill. Higher BTUs and a heavier metal basin and lid. This was the Cadillac of tailgating grills but with top of the line craftsmanship comes a higher price. Freedom Grill needed to offer more of a “workhorse” grill that was still high quality but lower in price and more accessible to the common tailgater. That is when the FG-50 was born in 2006.
The FG-50 enjoyed success and quickly became the envy of most tailgaters that encountered it in the tailgating parking lots. It was in 2009 when Freedom Grill entered into a licensing agreement with Jarden/Sunbeam, the parent company of the Margaritaville brand, to market the grill. As part of the agreement, Margaritaville changed a number of aspects of the grill. Most notable changes included the exterior colors changed to a greenish hue, they added a compass to the tilt out condiment tray, added palm tree decals to the swing arm and replaced the Freedom Grill logo on the lid handle to their own. Other than the aesthetic changes, the nuts and bolts of the grill remained the same. The functionality of the grill was almost identical to the FG-50 although it came in different packaging.
The biggest change was in the way Margaritaville was able to market these tailgating grills. Jarden/Sunbeam manages hundred of other brands and products and has what is known in the industry as “market penetration”. In layman’s term, that means they have the network and connections to get products in front of consumers not available to smaller companies. It also meant that a large advertising budget, larger than what a small company like Freedom Grill could afford, was put into action. In the late summer of 2009, television commercials promoting the Margaritaville Tailgating Grill started popping up on networks like ESPN and NFL Network to try and capture the sports fanatics’ and tailgaters’ attention.
Also at that same time, the Margaritaville Tailgating Grills were spotted popping up in online retail giants like Amazon and Buy.com. These grills also started showing up in brick and mortar stores like Costco Warehouses. With the marketing push and the advertising budget behind it, it appeared the Margaritaville Grill was poised to explode in popularity and we expected to see a lot more of these grills in the parking lots.
Unfortunately, these grills didn’t experience the meteoric rise we had expected. We saw a few of these newer model grills showing up while out tailgating but not the large number we had anticipated. All we can do is speculate as to why the grill didn’t sell as well as expected.
One theory is that the grill was introduced at a poor time in American history in that the country was struggling in the midst of a very deep recession. People were losing their jobs, losing their homes and money was very, very tight. Many tailgaters that may have wanted to buy a new grill for the upcoming football season may have passed on getting a Margaritaville Tailgating Grill just because they did not have the money. It’s hard to justify to your wife buying a new $400 grill that will be used a few times a year for tailgating when your home value is half than it was last year and you just had your hours cut back at work.
Another theory we have for the Margaritaville’s lackluster sales performance may have been the choice of colors and branding. The Parrottheads and Jimmy Buffett fans may have loved the colors but sports fans? Not so much. We received numerous emails from sports fans and tailgaters asking us where they could buy the old FG-50 in the neutral black and gray colors. It was made abundantly clear to us they did not like the green colors and tropical theme. One email even said,
“I have wanted to get an FG-50 ever since I saw one in the parking lot a few years ago. I scrimped and saved and now I finally have the money to buy one only to find out they changed it to this ugly green color with palm trees all over it. I am a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan and I tailgate at all the games. If I show up to Texas Stadium with a green grill on the back of my car, people will think I am an Eagles fan and I will probably get my ass kicked. Please help me find a regular old FG-50.”
That email was not the only one. We literally got dozens of similar emails begrudging the color and style change and telling us they will be forced to buy a competing product or will just have to make due with the old grill they wanted to replace. It was from these emails that prompted us to put together this DIY How To Customize A Margaritaville Tailgating Grill To Your Team’s Colors demonstration video.
We received lots of feedback from this video thanking us for not only finding a way to help tailgaters get a new grill but to “cool it up” to represent and support their favorite team. We even heard back that one guy bought two grills and customized one to his favorite college team and the other to his favorite NFL team because he tailgated at both. We often times would share photos readers submitted to us showcasing their own grills they customized themselves.
A byproduct of showing people how to customize their own Margaritaville Tailgating Grill to their own custom team grill was tailgaters were contacting us and asking us to customize the grills for them. This was not the original intention of putting together the DIY video but many people said they thought we did a nice job and would rather pay us to do it for them. A small side business was born customizing these grills to various team colors and logos. Some grills turned out very basic while others turned out quite intricate and detailed. A few of our favorites that turned out pretty awesome (in our own humble opinion) were the New York Yankees grill, The University of Maryland Grill and the Notre Dame Grill.
The Yankees grill was special in that it was the first grill we customized that was not a college or NFL team. We also were asked to somehow replicate the legendary Yankee pinstripes reflecting the rich tradition the Yankees are known for. As you can see by the above photo we were able to do it and make the grill look identical to a Derek Jeter jersey.
Another grill that really stands out in our minds was the Notre Dame grill. This grill was done for a fan that lived and worked in Kentucky but would drive 10 hours one way to South Bend to take in a Fighting Irish game. The tailgater wanted the grill to resemble the helmet of the Notre Dame football team and this brought up two challenges. The first challenge was finding the correct color paint to match the highly recognizable and famous Golden Dome helmets. The bigger challenge was finding that color paint that was heat resistant because the parts being painted, the grill lid and the basin, would get hot. It was a challenge but we were able to find the correct paint and pull it off.
The last grill that really sticks out in our mind was the University of Maryland grill. This particular tailgater wanted to integrate aspects of the state flag of Maryland on the grill because the football team often integrates those colors quite creatively in their uniforms. We came up with the idea of painting the condiment tray to represent the top portion of the state flag of Maryland. As you can see it turned out great but was quite the time consuming job with a lot of attention to detail.
The price of the Margaritaville Grills remained steady for a couple of years but we noticed that two years after it was originally introduced, the same 2009 models that originally came out on the market were still being sold. Apparently a high number of the original manufacturing run of grills were still around and the Jarden/Sunbeam folks had not sold enough grills to necessitate calling for a second manufacturing run. That was when we started seeing the price drop on these grills.
Soon the prices started falling to the $250 range and we started seeing them for sale in Tuesday Morning discount stores. At this point the writing was on the wall that the Margaritaville Tailgating Grill was an endangered species and would soon not be available for sale. The biggest price drop we saw was when Buy.com was offering them for $199 + free shipping. This was practically stealing considering a few years prior they were being sold in Costco for $329 and that was a killer deal at the time compared to other retailers online.
The final nail in the coffin for this grill was when Lowe’s home improvement stores started selling them for $199 and then three weeks later, marked them down as a clearance item. They were selling them for $169. This was the death blow for the Margaritaville Grill and it was a done deal this model grill would be extinct before long.
While out in Las Vegas for the Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show, we spoke with one of the managers within the Jarden Sports Licensing division and he confirmed to us that the grill was no longer going to be manufactured in its current design. He couldn’t confirm to me whether it was the poor economy or the color scheme that was the main contributing factor for the vapid sales production but did confirm they were no longer making them. That nailed it that once the grills that were still out on the market were sold, they would be the last ones.
Seeing the writing on the wall, we attempted to buy up as many Margaritaville Tailgating Grills from the local Lowe’s as we could. Knowing there would still be a market for those tailgaters wanting a grill customized to their favorite team, we needed these grills in order to meet that demand. It wasn’t until a few months ago that our calls to the Lowe’s stores were met with confirmations they were all sold out right around the Christmas holiday season.
If you do an internet search you won’t find these grills being offered in such abundance as they were a few years ago. We hope you were paying attention to you high school economics class when they were teaching supply and demand economics models. The Margaritaville Grill could be used as a text book example of how it works in that there are very few available for sale now and prices on these have been seen upwards of $600.
It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to the Margaritaville Grill and the Freedom Grill FG-50. Personally, we loved these grills for their convenience, versatility and overall “coolness” of having a tailgating grill on the back of your car. Back in 2008 when we first got our own FG-50, after the first time we took it tailgating, we knew the Coleman RoadTrip Grill we had been using for years was destined to be mothballed in the rafters of the garage.
We here at Tailgating Ideas are sad to see this grill go the way of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately for whatever reason these grills were not destined for long. We are hopeful that one day an entrepreneur or venture capitalist will buy the licensing and the patent to this grill and they will be back in production in some capacity. Until then, if you have either a Freedom Grill FG-50 or a Margaritaville Tailgating Grill, consider yourself lucky. You have one of the best pieces of tailgating gear we have ever come across.
So long Margaritaville Grill and FG-50. You will be missed.