Tailgating is essentially hanging out before the game, stocked with plenty of food, drink, sports paraphernalia, and good company. To get the most out of it, you’ll definitely need a serious cooler, a set of premier tailgate chairs, and an eye for seizing the perfect spot in any given parking lot. 

What is tailgating, anyway? The truth is, you don’t even need to like sports to enjoy tailgating, but it helps to at least wear the team jersey so your friends won’t discover your complete lack of interest in the actual game.

The Origins of Tailgating

A group of friends tailgates in a field underneath a canvas tent.

Tailgating grew out of the superfan movement, when dedicated die-hards would drive to stadiums before the big game (or battle, as it started at Bull Run) to revel in their day of sports mania. Soon, their numbers grew. They began to bring grills, coolers, and lawn chairs and take over space around their cars. The tailgate of the car became the hub of friendly conversation, beer drinking, and lounging—and thus the tailgate movement was born.

If asked, what is tailgating, extreme fans would say it’s about supporting the team like rabid cheerleaders. The truly dedicated superfans bring costumes, flags, logo-drenched gear and even themes to their parties. But most tailgaters just want to celebrate their team and enjoy some good company and (hopefully) decent weather.

The modern tailgate often happens in designated tailgating areas, such as open fields or vacant lots, near the stadium or arena. Since stadium parking lots are roomy and spacious, there is plenty of territory to tailgate wherever you park, and a good chance you’ll have neighbors who are lounging about in their Easy Chairs (adjustable cup holder included, of course!). But what is tailgating without food and drink? A cooler is mainstay equipment for tailgating pros, and many also fire up a grill or hibachi.

How To Tailgate

Two friends chat during a tailgating party outside of a football game while reclining in GCI Outdoor tailgating chairs.

You can tailgate solo, with a buddy, with whoever your parked next to, or with family. It’s not necessary to socialize, but most do. A lone tailgater with a radio may hang out during the game, soaking up the ambiance with a mini-grill, a Freestyle Rocker, and cooler for a footstool. There is no shame in tailgating on your own.

Since tailgating is a mysterious activity to Americans who don’t follow sports, and most non-Americans, it should be noted that not all sports fans tailgate. But if you are going to a game, it’s a great way to spend a full day basking in the excitement. Tailgating is an American tradition for pre-game fun, and has evolved over the decades. By bringing your own gear, you can set up early and sip cocktails, munch on snacks, and barbecue. Cooking and grilling makes the whole experience more enjoyable because you beat the crowds and save money on overpriced stadium food.

The question of “what is tailgating” isn’t simple, because it boils down to how Americans creatively enjoy the pre-game buzz. Some will tailgate in their driveways, or invite friends over to a “tailgating” party that doesn’t involve a car or a tailgate (but you should still take advantage of a few Outdoor Recliners)! If you love sports, it’s a moveable party and one you don’t want to miss. If you don’t love sports, it’s easy to pretend you do. Everyone there will assume you support the team, and if you remain silent, cheer occasionally and smile no one will be the wiser.