Fans are tailgating in big numbers for professional and college football games nationwide. The tailgating rituals draw many fans who love the party scene but can't afford tickets to the game. Others will be "homegating" in their living rooms.
According to the Weber Tailgating Study, compiled by the grill maker, one in eight American adults has tailgated at least three times during the past 12 months. College football games are actually the most popular parking-lot party setting, followed by the NFL, according to the Tailgate Times, an online recipe and shopping site.
To be sure, more retailers have taken notice and are getting their merchandising game on with expanded lines of elaborate and sometimes costly gadgets.
Consider the Party-A-Cargo, a combination sound system and beer keg that attaches to your tow hitch and retails for about $3,000.
Or check out the $400 Margaritaville Tailgating Grill, a full-size gas grill with a heavy steel arm that locks to the rear of your vehicle.
Need a portable party blender? A gas-powered version sells for $270. And there's a $38 drink blender that uses your cordless power drill.
Even in these tough economic times, many fans still go the extra yard with lavish pregame spreads and all the decorations. Detailed sales figures are hard to find because they often include picnics and home parties. But according to the Tailgate Times, the amount spent on food and beverages for tailgating and picnics runs into the tens of billions of dollars. Some $115 million more is spent on sports-licensed housewares and games, and $375 million covers sports-licensed paper goods.
And if fans need fresh ideas on how to liven up the pregame fun, Home Depot sells magazines about tailgating, and websites galore devoted strictly to this subculture offer recipes for meats, vegetables, sauces and drinks.
What's hot this season? Football-shaped doughnuts, football-shaped cooking pans, football-shaped serving dishes and football-shaped soft drink bottles.
Retail experts say the tailgating trend is growing so much it's even becoming another selling season for some stores, just like Christmas and Halloween.
Take the Walmart Supercenter in Blue Ridge Crossing, Mo., less than five miles from Arrowhead Stadium. Before the season opener, it stocked its main aisles with tailgating goodies - hot dog and hamburger buns, condiments, cases of soft drinks with tailgating logos. The displays led customers to side aisles with folding chairs and grills, and then to the meat department.
And the store's seasonal department? Walmart has that stocked with everything from coolers to caps to potato chips.
When the local team is on a winning streak, so are the local retailers.
And although football season typically means more pizza promotions, fine-dining restaurants have new promotions in play.
Along with four new HD TVs, football bar menus often include "Tail Gate Platters" with shrimp, oysters, sushi, Buffalo-style wings and shrimp and game day beverages.
"Restaurants often try to tie into the event of the moment, but when football season comes along, they seem to really ramp up their promotions - sometimes for months," said Aaron Jourden, associate editor with Technomic Inc., a leading food-service consulting company.
"With the recession and 'staycations,' people are pinching their pennies. So a lot of chains are saying, 'If you are going to have your tailgating party at home, let us help.'"
•1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
•4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
•1/4 cup white vinegar
•Salt and ground black pepper
•1 pound jumbo shrimp, shells removed, tails on
•10 ounces Frank's Red Hot cayenne-pepper sauce
•1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
In large bowl, whisk together oil, garlic and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Add shrimp, toss well to coat, then cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Toward the end of the 30 minutes, heat the grill to medium-high. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine pepper sauce and butter. Heat until butter is melted and mixture is at a slow simmer. Reduce heat to low. Remove shrimp from marinade and grill 2 minutes per side, or until just pink and firm. In large bowl, toss shrimp with pepper-sauce mix. Serve immediately.