Football is big business in America, and a massive part of the game day experience is tailgating: a world where thousands of excited fans gather to drink, eat and play games for hours before, during and after games. What better place for an entrepreneur to make some great money with game-changing innovations in the tailgate economy?
Here are five brands—and the entrepreneurs behind them—that have become integral to game days across the college football and NFL worlds.
Tailgate Guys offers turnkey tailgating service for anyone hosting a small family get-together—or a huge corporate gathering with thousands of people. They handle the entire experience and make sure everyone is fed, entertained and happy.
The company was founded in 2009 by Parker Duffey and Michael Otwell. They were inspired by their time at Auburn University, where tailgating is serious business. Now, they host thousands of tailgates all over the country. It’s a genius idea to take the most difficult part of tailgating—the planning, setup and cooking—out of the equation for customers so they can focus on having a great time.
In 2020, Tailgate Guys combined with several other brands in the live event space to form a new company, REVELxp, which hosts larger live events, such as Topgolf Live.
Tailgating isn’t just about the food and the fun; it’s also all about looking the part by sporting your team’s colors. But how can you make a fashion statement and stand out amid a sea of people wearing versions of the same thing?
Connor and Christa Hitchcock came up with a solution to that and turned it into the wildly successful clothing company Homefield Apparel. They’ve got licensing deals with nearly every college football team and are expanding to the NFL as well.
What sets their brand apart is their deep knowledge of each team’s history, traditions and legacy, mixed in with a little humor. The shirts and sweatshirts are unique, funny and often vintage inspired. Wearing a Homefield Apparel shirt shows your fellow fans that you know your team inside and out—after all, only true Texas Tech fans would understand the meaning of the Tortilla Toss T-shirt, for example.
Though not created for football tailgating, Yeti, and its burgeoning array of tumblers and cold drink products, has become for many the undisputed king of the tailgate beverage. And there’s very little more important than a cold drink at a tailgate.
Yeti was founded by outdoorsmen brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders in 2006. Like most entrepreneurs, the Seiders came up with their idea because they were frustrated by the available options. Yeti is now seen as the top-quality cooler available, and it’s priced that way, too. Some even refer to Yeti products as status symbols because the prices are so high. But that also fuels their popularity. Yeti bumper stickers are slapped on trucks, boats and water bottles all over the country.
An idea that started out as a way to improve a fishing outing is now a publicly traded, multibillion-dollar company and an icon for outdoor aficionados and sports fans all over the world.
There’s a famous Picasso quote that might apply to the situation between RTIC and Yeti, but we won’t put it here. Suffice to say, RTIC is Yeti’s main rival. Started by John and Jim Jacobsen in 2014, RTIC’s biggest differentiator in the market is affordability.
RTIC coolers and other products look very similar to Yeti’s but are much less expensive—sometimes priced at over $100 less for the same product. That has made RTIC extremely popular for more budget-conscious tailgaters. It’s also caught the attention of Yeti, who sued RTIC. The lawsuit was settled in a way that both sides felt happy with the results, and both companies continue to thrive years later.
The popularity and success of RTIC shows that not all entrepreneurs have to reinvent the wheel. You might be just as successful taking something already on the market and making it more affordable. Though, it’s always nice to avoid a lawsuit.
HitchFire is another innovation created for camping and outdoors enthusiasts that actually works perfectly for tailgaters. In fact, you could say HitchFire puts the “tailgate” in “tailgating.” Their trailer hitch-mounted grill system swings out from the back of the truck so you have plenty of room to grill and packs up nice and tight to the truck for easy storage. This allows you to grill in smaller spaces, such as a single parking spot, and to use the bed of your truck or the trunk of your SUV for storing other things—like cornhole boards, chairs and coolers.
Evan Currid and John Griffith are the outdoorsmen who started HitchFire. Though the original vision was for camping, they’ve embraced the football crowd with special packages such as the Tailgating Bundle.
The tailgate economy is one built on food and fun, and the possibilities are endless when it comes to starting a business or inventing a product that will be popular among football fans.
Scott Bedgood is a freelance writer and the author of Lessons from Legends: 12 Hall of Fame Coaches on Leadership, Life, and Leaving a Legacy. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife Sami.