Tailgating is a beloved tradition across the country. At Colorado State University, the new stadium offers enthusiasts a chance to take their game to the next level, while University of Northern Colorado offers an intimate setting in which tailgating is part of the fan fest area.

Summer’s long days will soon give way to the best of fall traditions: football, and well, tailgating.

This fabled custom holds a special place in many people’s hearts. A National Geographic article asserts the first tailgating party (complete with food and alcoholic beverages) might have been the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, when both Yankee and Confederate supporters turned out to see who would take the field. Today, tailgating is synonymous with football, and Colorado State University is making tailgating even easier for enthusiasts.

So, how is it done? What are the tailgating tenets, and what can you expect for your first time on campus? The experience is more varied than one might think.

Tailgating Explained

Tailgating at CSU can take many forms, according to Chris Ferris, senior associate athletic director for sales, communication, and marketing. “We have such a gorgeous campus, and game day allows for all our important groups to unify: students, alumni, staff. It is an opportunity to celebrate our love of CSU, and fellowship around game day.”

Last year, CSU averaged over 32,000 attendees at each home game during the stadium’s first year in business. Many of those attendees chose to tailgate in some way, though Ferris added, “tailgating means something a little different to everyone.”

While attendees can purchase traditional season parking passes that allow them to tailgate on campus several hours before the game begins, charcoal grills and lawn chairs aren’t the only way to pre-game.

“If you want to drive your car, park and grill, you can certainly do that,” said Ferris. But, he explained, you can also enjoy a number of concession stands, watch the team warm up, or take advantage of free live music at CSU’s Stadium Sessions, a joint partnership between CSU and the Bohemian Foundation that brings live music to the campus for several hours before kickoff.

Also available is Ram Town, which opens three hours prior to game time, offers free, interactive play areas for children, and an opportunity to get your picture taken with CAM the Ram. “We have created a robust menu of activities for anyone coming to campus to enjoy,” said Ferris.

Traditional Tailgating

If you are an aficionado of the traditional tailgating model, there are a bevy of choices available. Some tailgate parking areas allow alcohol (aluminum cans or plastic containers only, please). Others are alcohol-free, if that is your preference. Season parking passes start at a $100 donation for the year, which gets you in for the six home games of the season. RVs have their own parking in the Moby Arena area and cost $500 for the season. Parking (and tailgating) gets exponentially more expensive the closer you get to the stadium, with the next level at a $2,500 donation. The closest spots are reserved for those who have donated $10,000 or more to the stadium, and most premium parking has already sold out for the season.

Doug Rogakis, of Fort Collins, is one who enjoys the fellowship of traditional tailgating. He has been a CSU season ticket holder—and avid tailgater—for the past five years, though he first started tailgating 17 years ago when his son played football at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Tailgating quickly became a family tradition, edging out other hobbies.

“We were the farmer-hunter family that turned into the football family when my son started playing,” says Rogakis. Today, tailgating is all about good food, country music and hanging out with loved ones. Rogakis is generally the cook in the group, firing up brats, making his famous chili recipe or even producing homemade gyros for his group. It is a hobby he hopes to share with his grandson—though he also hopes to see said grandson on the field someday as well. In the meantime, Rogakis rarely misses a game, or an opportunity to tailgate.

Chris Heeren, a CSU alum from Denver, has been tailgating at Denver Broncos games for over 30 years. With a daughter who just graduated CSU and a son about to start his freshman year, he tailgates at CSU games as well.

His tailgate group generally averages at least eight people, but he has had groups of more than 30. Heeren says the key to tailgating for his group is delegation. His core group will split the duties: Someone will bring the food, another beer and/or wine, yet another will bring the gear (chairs, banners, tables, lawn games). 

Admittedly, tailgating can be a lot of work. So, what makes it worth it?

“I just love the game day environment,” he said. “Having fun, talking to people…I would rather do that than go out to lunch somewhere. It takes quite a bit of prep and planning, but we like to do it right. We are all pretty busy; sometimes this is the only time during the year that I get to see some of these friends.”

Tailgating with a Purpose

Windermere Real Estate uses homecoming weekend as an opportunity to share the tailgating experience with their clients and the community at large, while also raising money to give back to local non-profits through their Windermere Foundation Tailgate Party.

Last year’s event had more than 500 attendees and, according to director of marketing, Kailee Harvey, they anticipate the event will continue to grow. Held Friday night during CSU’s homecoming weekend, the event features live music, food, lawn games, face painters, photo booths, pony rides—an endless offering of fun for families.

“The event originally started as a client appreciation event,” said Harvey. “Now the event is intended for the entire community.” This year’s Tailgate Party will be held October 12 at Windermere’s parking lot off of JFK and Horsetooth Road.

Tailgating Elevated 

This year, CSU is elevating the tailgating experience with a new partnership with Tailgate Guys, a concierge service of sorts for tailgaters.

Tailgate Guys offers packaged tailgate experiences that include tents, chairs, coolers, and bellhop service so you don’t have to lug your gear around. But that is just the beginning. The premium, reserved tailgate service can also provide TVs and media packages, catering in partnership with local providers, and even generators to power up your game day, according to Eric Darvin, manager of sales and strategy.

Tailgate Guys got their start in 2009 at Auburn University in Alabama when they saw the university’s need for a controlled tailgate environment. CSU is the 21st property to come under their portfolio. Packages for groups of 10 to 15 people start as low as $300 for a single game or $1,300 for a full season. Packages can be customizable, and the Tailgate Guys can create tailgate experiences for groups of 10 to 2,000.

“Our goal is to create a community of tailgaters,” said Darvin.

The new arrangement with Tailgate Guys is just another way CSU is expanding its offerings for those who come to the stadium during game day, added Ferris.

“The service is not designed to replace anything; it is designed to enhance and offer additional opportunities,” he said. A survey of ticket holders after last year’s season showed that many attendees wanted to take advantage of the tailgate experience but still wanted to be able to walk or ride their bicycle or the Max to Campus.

“This is not meant to be a service just for big-time corporate entities or donors,” he continued. “We wanted it to be available and accessible no matter what investment you want to make. It is another way we have to enhance and grow the game-day experience. And that is the main thing: we are working to create a great day for everyone.”


UNC: Division 1 Fun

University of Northern Colorado’s Nottingham Field offers an intimate setting for game day, says assistant athletic director Tracy Huth. “Tailgating is part of our fan fest area,” he says. “Everything is very close to the stadium, which makes for a great atmosphere.”

Tailgaters can bring their own fare or have food provided by vendors. Season tailgating passes start at $100, with single game spots available for $25. Local restaurants and breweries will set up shop at Bears Brews & Bites at the Fan Fest at the football home opener on September 1.


Angeline Grenz is a Loveland-based business owner and freelance writer. To comment on this article, send an email to letters@nocostyle.com.