ECU Tailgating: Part of a 100-year national tradition – and many wouldn’t miss it

By Meredith Field

It’s a beautiful sunny September day in Greenville. The streets are flooded with cars, and college students wearing purple and gold are seen tailgating in the lots by Dowdy-Ficklen stadium. It’s football season at East Carolina University.

Tailgating started as a uniquely American event that goes back at least 100 years, according to a 2010 article on milehighreport.com, a website for Denver Broncos fans. While tailgating has evolved over the years, it has always been a time to come together in support of a variety of sports teams.

Tailgating before football games is something almost every university with a football team does, and ECU is no exception. Many people, such as Aidan Gage, an ECU sophomore, see it as a time to come together before a big game and to get excited for their team.

“Schools all over the nation do this and just about all of the people taking part in tailgating are seen getting excited, cheering for their team and even doing things like getting their faces painted,” Gage said. He added that most people would agree it is much more fun to get together before a game, rather than being alone before a game they might be excited for.

Other people take this as a time to drink and even get drunk. According to a 2011 wired.com article, of the 18 percent of fans who tailgated before games, a whopping 82 percent had two or more drinks, while only 8 percent did not drink at all. Overall, it was found that 48 percent of fans drink at sporting events.

That’s no secret, according to Jacob Freeman, a sophomore at ECU. “Many fans want to get rowdy and even get a buzz before big games. Some people use it as a way to get excited.”

Freeman added that tailgating at ECU is especially popular because ECU is a football school. “When your school’s main sport is football, it’s obvious that that is when people are going to get most rowdy and excited. Tailgating has been popular at ECU for as long as I can remember. It’s something we are known for.”

East Carolina University has long been known as a football school and for having dedicated fans. People travel from all over to join in on the tailgating and to come out and support their alma mater.

Will Kemp, a sophomore at ECU, said, “The people who go to this school and went to this school are normally die-hard fans. Tailgating and football season are something they look forward to all year.”

Kemp added that ECU has a rich tradition of tailgating and that he sees this tradition growing more every year. He said that the students take pride in their university and tailgating is one way they show their school spirit.

People who do not go to ECU, but are native to Greenville, also recognize ECU’s tailgating heritage and tradition.

Baird Whichard, a sophomore at Ole Miss who is from Greenville, can vouch for this rich heritage. “Growing up, I just thought every college was like ECU. Don’t get me wrong, Ole Miss has a huge fan base, but when you take into account that overall ECU is smaller than us, you realize how amazing its dedicated fans really are.”

Whichard added that she even comes home to Greenville during football season for at least one game to experience the fun of tailgating, because to her, no other school “does it like ECU.”

A 2009 study by Jenna Drenten and others called “Not Just a Party in the Parking Lot: An Exploratory Investigation of the Motives Underlying the Ritual Commitment of Football Tailgaters,” found four basic tailgating motivations. Those motivations, including involvement, social interaction, inter-temporal sentiment and identity, are all sociological factors that help to show how society has formed the ritual of tailgating.

Drenten, an assistant professor of marketing in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University, said, “We found throughout our study that people all across the board are into tailgating, not just die-hard sports fans. People use tailgating not only as a way to get excited before big sporting events, but also to come together and spend time with each other. It can be used as a way to bond with other people over a common interest, such as liking the same sports team.”

Drenten added that if people grew up tailgating with family, it is likely that the tradition will continue. Spouses of big sports fans are also likely to get into the ritual of tailgating. However, Drenten and her colleagues found that while tailgating is largely seen as a time to come together and have fun, many people are “relieved” when football season is over. Many of the participants said that planning tailgates and getting everyone together can be exhausting and a lot of work.

Field produced this story for her spring 2017 class, Media Writing & Reporting.