The League

Jason Maloni
Crisis Communications Expert

Jason Maloni

Senior Vice President with
Levick Strategic Communications
and Chair of the firm's Sports & Entertainment Practice.

Heed the Tailgation!

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Tailgating is a tradition older than the game itself. Its roots date back to the Civil War, when spectators would pepper the hills surrounding battlefields, eating, drinking, and cheering on the Union (or perhaps even the Confederacy). As gruesome as it was, it's not a far cry from the battles waged every Sunday on the gridiron. Bound together by their love of the game and their team loyalty, true fans rise at 4:00am and brave the rain, the snow and the ever increasing price of admission in order to partake in one of America's greatest pastimes. Only now, football organizations across the country are restricting tailgating - ostracizing tailgaters and quite possibly losing their biggest market.

From the frozen parking lots surrounding Soldier Field in Chicago, to DC's (er, Maryland's) very own Fed-Ex Field, tailgaters everywhere are being pushed - literally and figuratively - to the brink. Visit any Redskins online forum and you'll see angry season ticket holders threatening to discontinue their package after this season.

For the die hard fan - the lifeblood of any pro football organization - it's about community. Tailgating is social. People are as fond of their Tailgation as they are of their own neighborhoods. Tailgaters park next to old friends who they only see on Sundays. It's not unlike online communities where strangers gather over common bond. Evidence can be found at any tailgate, where the 'skins are described in terms of "we" and "us" - not "they" or "them." Most die hard fans consider themselves an integral part of the team and in reality, they are.

That's what's most disappointing about the way the Redskins organization broke news of its new tailgating restrictions. Apparently, an email went out to some, but not all season ticket holders, alerting them that tailgating would be limited to "the last few rows of each lot" and that they will be directed to specific spaces, no longer able to select their own pieces of pavement. Redskins' brass should have recognized the value of their fans and organized a thorough and thoughtful announcement.

While visiting family in Cleveland over Thanksgiving, I had the chance to see the Browns parking lot up close and personal before the home team took on the Indianapolis Colts. Sure the standard grills were everywhere and coolers were open for all who wanted to imbibe. But the tricked-out orange and brown school buses with the savage dogs intricately decaled on the side panels were parked alongside top-of-the-line RV's with outdoor 60 inch HD TVs. Despite 32 degree weather, wind and freezing rain the lot was packed with happy fans just having a good time. The Brown's tailgate party is an institution much a part of the Cleveland culture as the Dog Pound. It's a spirit that other stadium owners and NFL teams should never tamper with and actually try to foster. Safe, responsible fun!

In Washington, I'm sure, relocation to the back of Fed Ex field is a hassle. But just as fans did after the stadium opened in 1997, parking lot communities will spring up like weeds through broken asphalt. On the surface, it's about location (indeed, it doesn't make sense that people who arrive at the stadium before the sunrise should be relegated to the far parking spaces), but the real pain runs deeper. It's about fans feeling slighted by the organization they have come to strongly support.

Many fans wait years in order to get a shot at season tickets and they pay a pretty penny to do so. Even the casual fan pays good money to see a single game. Why not treat them accordingly? Listen to their complaints and find a common ground. The reasons for designating large tailgates to the rear lots makes sense, but why govern where they can park once they get there?

Business partnerships are founded on openness and trust. They succeed through compromise. The partnership between Stadium owners across the country and team fans should be no different. There's still time to mend fences with a smart, ongoing strategy.

By Jason Maloni  |  June 24, 2009; 12:12 PM ET  | Category:  Cleveland Browns , NFL , Roger Goodell , Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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