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Game Day Splurges

Gone are the days when “tailgating” meant a gathering resembling a picnic in a parking lot—maybe a cooler of drinks, some sandwiches and a battery-powered radio. Tailgating has evolved into an elaborate generator-beer- and meat- powered temporary settlement of outdoor living rooms and kitchens—and the food has gotten serious.

Also serious are the costs. CNBC talked to Joe Cahn, otherwise known as the Commissioner of Tailgating, about how it’s changed and some of the associated expenses. “The Commish” has been on the road since 1996 attending over 850 tailgates from pro and college football to Nascar and Jimmy Buffet concerts (which he calls “non-adversarial tailgating”), and logging more than 800,000 miles of travel in the process.

Amid the sea of obvious costs like RVs, canopies, grills, TVs and catering trays, one of the less-apparent costs of tailgating is paying to park. At college games, that $100 to more than $200 per vehicle per game for spots close to the stadium has become a fundraiser, with proceeds typically going to the athletic fund or school scholarship fund. For pro games, Cahn says parking per game is about $100 and up, and up to $200 for parking RVs. But the closer you park at a pro game, “normally you’re on club or suite level,” he said.

As for who shoulders the cost and responsibilities for a tailgate parties, Cahn explains that some groups get the guests to chip in, while others are happy to treat their friends. As one Baltimore couple who host a large tailgate told him, the $1,000 or so they spend per game is their entertainment budget for the year. Other tailgates are run almost like businesses. Cahn points to one group that meets in Napa Valley to plan their menus for the upcoming season, and to the Mel’s Plumbing tailgate in Philadelphia, which delegates responsibilities using wallet-size cards, so no one can arrive empty handed, claiming they didn’t get the email.

And because this is clearly a crowd that’s willing to spend money, tailgating parking lots have become captive audiences for fundraising, whether it be cheerleaders who do a cheer in exchange for donations, or baseball and football leagues that go around so you need extra cash for charity donations.

Unsurprisingly, corporations have gotten into the pre-game scene. More and more companies are hosting their own luxurious tailgate parties for customers and employees, which Cahn calls “luxury suites without paying the price.”

The following game-day indulgences might only represent the beginning of the scaling-up of tailgating supplies. They do not include self-propelled road vehicles, since those tend to serve other practical and recreational purposes (however, a vehicle known as the Carnivore was created especially for tailgating and was worth an estimated $250,000). Click ahead to see the collection beginning with the least expensive and increasing to the priciest one.

By Colleen Kane
Posted 14 September 2012

Ian O'Leary | Dorling Kindersley | Getty Images