Although sports are slowly starting to make a comeback around the country, it may be some time still before fans will be able to return to stadiums at full capacity. Cardboard cut-outs of fans behind home plate are all too commonplace right now along with empty stands that look like a Kansas Jayhawks Homecoming football game last year. (Sorry, had to do it.) But we’re tailgaters and the game is only the icing on the cake for the party in the parking lot. What can you do in the age of Coronavirus, surgical masks and social distancing to fill the void?
The NFL and College Football both kicked off their seasons this past weekend and it was eerily different not seeing the stands filled with 100,000+ screaming fans. The Jacksonville Jaguars were the only NFL franchise to allow fans in the stands and that was at a reduced capacity. Some college football teams welcomed fans into their stadiums, but only allowed 25% capacity to come inside. Many colleges banned tailgating on any campus property to discourage large groups gathering that could potentially spread the virus.
For us tailgaters, it’s definitely disappointing we won’t be able to see our favorite teams in person for a little longer. But that doesn’t mean we can’t show our support at home in the meantime. Just like many things over the past few months, tailgating has become virtual and is the new way to watch, represent and cheer for your favorite team. If you’re thinking about trying out your own virtual tailgate in these upcoming weeks and months, try these tips:
1. Prep your video conference set-up
No virtual tailgate is possible without the “virtual” aspect of it, so it’s essential to figure out this step early on. You may have seen during the NFL draft in April, fans of the team that was on the clock dressed up in team gear complete with face paint appearing in multiple boxes on your TV screen. These fans were patched in to give the appearance that fans were in attendance even though they were all at home.
Whether or not you’ve experienced using a video calling app during the pandemic, programs like Zoom or Skype enable you to start your virtual event and even invite your friends. Companies and social groups have been doing “virtual happy hours” after work hours to fill that void of after quitting time throwing back a few cold ones on a Friday. One thing to note is to make sure all virtual tailgaters you plan to invite have the same program downloaded so that you all can be in the same room watching together. Just like Monday through Friday meetings, practice on telling your fellow tailgaters, “you’re still on mute”. (That seems to be the catch phrase for 2020.)
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to the setup is making sure you do this ahead of time. Don’t wait until the day of the game to try and set this up. Test it out a day or two before just to make sure things run smoothly. The last thing you want is to deal with is technical difficulties when you should be having fun and rooting on your team.
Finally, remember to make your background as fitting as possible! Fill it with all kinds of banners, team merchandise and anything that will boost that extra sense of team spirit.
2. Endless food possibilities
One upside of tailgating at home rather than in the stadium parking lots is your opportunity to expand your food selection. Traditional hamburgers, hotdogs and everything you can grill is always a classic tradition of tailgating (and you can still have them at your virtual tailgate). Being home and having an entire kitchen at your disposal can open up your menu to items you’ve always wanted to try, but never could due to logistics. It’ll also be a welcome change to have running water in your kitchen to wash your hands after handling raw meats and the same goes for not having to wait in line to use a port-a-potty.
Thanks to the availability of ovens, microwave ovens and other appliances like air fryers, you can make more complex dishes that would either not be possible to transport to the tailgate or would require too much preparation. If you’re looking for inspiration, specialty food site Eating Well even curated their own list of the tastiest dishes to serve up on game day. Start thinking and get creative on what kinds of food you can whip up at home. Not that creative? Wings and ribs are always a crowd-pleaser.
3. Drinks to your door
Pairing your food items with some drinks is a tailgating staple and just because you’re at home doesn’t mean this element of your experience has to change. Everyone’s choice of beverage is different, and whether you’re enjoying your favorite craft beer, an early morning mimosa, or even a fancier mixed drink since you’re in the comfort of your home, the possibilities are endless. If you’re at home, no need to hide your beer using a beer can cover, that is unless you’ve invited your judgy aunt to your virtual tailgate.
One convenience to keep in mind on game day is an alcohol delivery service that can drop-off drinks right to your couch. Need an extra pack of White Claws delivered prior to kick-off? Didn’t realize you ran out of tonic to mix your killer G&Ts during the middle of the pre-game? An app like goPuff is just one example of an alcohol drop-off service that can save you from running out of these essentials, especially during a crucial portion of the game. Make sure to let these services do the driving and delivering just in case you cracked a beer at the time you would normally arrive at the parking lot…
4. Set the mood
When it comes to tailgating, the environment is everything. And at home, especially if you’re by yourself, that hyped-up feeling may not always come naturally. To combat this feeling, there are a few things you can do to make it feel like you’re still in the parking lot pre-gaming. First, start with music. The perfect playlist is key to get the energy up and the excitement levels amplified. Next, make sure you have something good on the TV that can feed into the hype of the game. Lots of fans like to put old reruns of classic games of their team (for example old Super Bowl-winning games, rivalry match wins from previous years, etc.) just to feed into the nostalgia, or even having the pre-game show playing in the background can get you pumped up.
Lastly, add some flair to your living room, den, or wherever you’re watching by adding some games into the mix. Virtual beer pong and cornhole has taken on a life of its own over the past few months, as well as online trivia and video games. Kahoot! is a free resource to load up your own trivia and quiz games to see who is the biggest and most knowledgeable fans within your tailgating crew. Think outside the box when it comes to games and you and your tailgating group can stay entertained as you countdown to kick-off.
When it comes to your virtual tailgate, remember that the success of it and the amount of fun you’ll have depends on the amount of effort you put into it. While we long for the days when we can be back in the stands with thousands of our closest friends, we must adapt and take tailgates into our own hands.