Newswise — Tailgating is a favorite pastime for thousands of sports enthusiasts in the United States.  The social gathering, comprised of individuals grilling, eating, drinking and socializing in preparation for a big game, is an institutionalized form of public revelry and a valuable branding opportunity that many universities take full advantage of.

In a new study published in Marketing Theory, Tonya Williams Bradford, UCI Paul Merage School of Business assistant professor of marketing, and her co-author Professor John F. Sherry from the University of Notre Dame, examine tailgating in an American collegiate football setting in an article titled, “Dwelling dynamics in consumption encampments: Tailgating as emplaced brand community.”

The goal of the research was to explain the mechanisms through which tailgating is managed by tailgaters, so that others (e.g., police or campus authorities) do not have to intervene to maintain the good-natured fun of the experience.

The study explores how tailgating creates and employs traditions and rituals, which maintain a shared moral responsibility to the community, which is made up of the fans of a football team, and that occur within the context of the tailgating event or “consumption encampment.”  A consumption encampment is a type of periodic market, similar to a swap meet or farmers’ market, where the entire venue is set up for an event or occasion, and then immediately removed. Consumption encampments have been the focus of previous inquiry into dwelling sites such as the left field bleachers of Wrigley Field, the Burning Man event, Mount Everest base camps, and Mountain Man Rendezvouses.

“Tailgating takes place over the course of a day. During that short period, a nomadic brand community encampment arises, replete with ersatz homes, a grid of streets with ingenious address coordinates, playing fields, and channels of information exchange.  In the duration of a tailgate, a city is raised, and ultimately razed,” said Bradford.

Some universities are famous for taking advantage of this branding opportunity and encourage tailgating.  By making minimally legislated space available to committed campers, the university is able to harness the legendry energy of sports enthusiasts and yoke it to the institutional brand enterprise, effectively channeling fans’ creativity in the service of brand building.   Both the university and fan base recognize tailgating as an exercise in brand evangelism requiring complementary efforts.

The study unpacks the mechanics of the space-to-place transformation that characterizes collegiate tailgating by identifying three architectonic pillars: chorography, conviviality, and community. Chorography is the place-making effort undertaken by consumers or fans.  Conviviality is literally the fondness that the researchers observed consumers exhibit for the companionship taken in drinking and feasting. Community is the social solidarity arising from the conviviality that chorography situates. 

“In the brand community emerging in lots surrounding collegiate football games, there is a belief that fans are not only creating a do-it-yourself extravaganza for themselves but that they are also contributing psychic and emotional energy to a prospective victory in the stadium.  Informants told us that tailgating gets them “pumped,” “primed,” and “psyched” for the effortful work of cheering their team to win on the field, but even more, creates a magical or mystical connection to the forces of victory.”

About The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine

The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine offers four dynamic MBA programs – plus PhD, specialty masters and undergraduate business degrees – designed to prepare business students to lead in a digitally driven world. Through on-campus and online programs, students acquire the exceptional ability to grow their organizations through strategic innovation, analytical decision-making, digital information technology and collaborative execution. While the Merage School is relatively young, it has quickly grown to rank consistently among the top five percent of all business programs worldwide through exceptional student recruitment, world-class faculty, a strong alumni network and close relationships with both individual business executives and global corporations. Additional information is available at