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As presidential campaign heats up, so does tailgating season

Twenty million fans will take Obama-Romney debate to stadium parking lots this fall

The city of Tampa may have been focused on primetime politics last week, but according to the Tampa-based Tailgating Industry Association, last weekend kicked off the prime season for tailgating. TIA, which represents the goals and interests of manufacturers of tailgating products, estimates the annual take for the industry at around $20 billion.
That figure covers a wide range of purchases, running the gamut from burgers and beer to outdoor games and grills. It takes into account portions of ticket sales, electronics and automotive purchases that are influenced by the tailgating lifestyle and culture. It also includes the growing home tailgating category.
How many people tailgate?
"Over the next several months, more than 20 million people will engage in some form of tailgating activity," TIA Executive Director Mark Stewart said. "That's about the same number of people that voted in all the Republican primaries this year.
Stewart confirms that football - including, high school, college and pro - is still the sporting event most closely associated with tailgating, but adds that year-round industry sales are the rule, not the exception.
Auto racing and baseball dominate the spring and summer months, and during the winter basketball and hockey fans have taken tailgating off-site - eschewing parking lots in favor of college dorms, "man caves" and backyards. Home tailgating, Stewart said, is on the upswing.
"This is an important trend, and one of the primary data targets of the research initiative TIA started this summer," he said. "We want to put some hard numbers on Home Tailgating. That will help retailers and manufacturers better understand and respond to this market. Already we know that female fans are more involved in purchasing decisions, and that Home Tailgaters tend to buy higher-quality or more permanent products than stadium tailgaters."
The Tailgating Industry Association recently issued a State of the Industry report to approximately 40,000 manufacturers, retailers and sports industry professionals. The report is available on the Association's website.
As for the upcoming presidential election, the tailgating industry does not appear to favor one candidate over the other.
"Near as we can tell, the industry is not choosing sides," he said. "In one respect, it's a win-win because both candidates have demonstrated a deep appreciation of America's passion for celebrating sports."
Will people tailgate during the upcoming presidential debates?
"You bet," Stewart said. "We are going to see a lot of Home Tailgating events for the debates. And you know, they'll probably be just as partisan and emotional as NFL game-day parties. This is another example of how the Tailgating culture has taken hold over the past decade. It's redefined who Tailgaters are and what Tailgating is."
Regardless of who wins the election, Stewart said everyone hopes the employment picture improves so more people can get out to the games. But even in these tough economic times, Tailgating has continued to grow and thrive, in part because of the tight economy, he said.
"A lot of people have come to appreciate how the sharing of food and fun and rooting for the home team creates an important sense of community," Stewart said. "That's kind of priceless these days."

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