How to network for your business at a tailgating event

How to network for your business at a tailgating event

If you’re from the States or have visited during the fall, I’m sure you’ve been encouraged to join a tailgating event. Tailgates provide a great sense of pride, and fun, for fans, family, and the community.

They also provide a great chance for business members to network and promote their services to a community.

As a staff member of a university, I experienced my first tailgating event this past weekend. I had tailgated somewhat as a student and as a reporter, but both are very different from being a staff member at a university during football season.

Tailgating can be fun, but it can also be a great networking event. It can help promote and advertise to the community and other businesses about the work and services companies provide for their town.

But how do you manage to toe-the-line of business owner and fun, care-free tailgater?

Here are a few tips:

Get there early

Tailgating can start early. On a college campus, there are many groups, fans and fraternities alike, that get a prime tailgating spot two days before the game. That’s about 48-hours ahead of time!

You’re spot can also be dependent on what you want to accomplish. There are many pros to tailgating in certain spots.

Being close to the stadium allows you to come in contact with a lot more people than it would if you were to get a spot closer to parking spots. If you are near a parking lot, you can make money by allowing tailgaters to park their vehicles near your business, thus getting you traffic. If you hand out promotional items, you might get a lot of traffic no matter where you’re located but you might also lose some when those items run out or if you are so far away, the free items might not seem worth it to fans.

Still, the earlier you start tailgating, the more time you have to speak your elevator pitch to other business owners and potential customers. So hurry up!

Visit different colleges for away games

Want to focus on expanding your business? Try visiting other colleges, especially those that are appealing to your business.

This a great way to network with like-minded companies. Want to learn more about their business and how to replicate their success? Try tailgating with their company.

Tailgating provides a light-heartened atmosphere for everyone. Once they’ve parked that is.

While rivalry is constant among differing teams, being the visitor in a new atmosphere is likely to provide a smaller group to find camaraderie. Being in a smaller group allows people to reach out to new similarities between new people. Build off of those small connections in a networking event to find bigger commonalities.

Plus, visiting different colleges allows you to find various ways to breach out your business and create stronger connections with your networking ties.

Stay in your business casual wardrobe

While it remains hot into the end of football season, it’s important to show professionalism even when outside of the workplace.

I would not dress in your favorite suit for tailgating (you will be sweating bullets in about 30 minutes), but I would suggest being in a business casual wardrobe. For men, this usually means khakis, either the pant or short variety, and a polo or button-down shirt. For women, I would stick with a dress, if you’re comfortable in one, or capris and a solid shirt. You still want to present at tailgating events, but you also want to be relaxed and laid-back.

Most football tailgates are great to show school pride or a connection to the school represented. Feel free to incorporate a logo or color that reflects your school of choice. Having a small brand mark or logo to showcase your support is not against the rules of tailgating, just make it classy.

Just like if you go to a business meeting, you want to dress to impress. It might not be a typical environment, but you want to put your best foot forward as it were.


Talk to students, staff, faculty, and alumni from the college

When I worked at my first tailgate, there were so many alumni that came up to our tent to show their support. It was a great experience to be a part of when you have an alumnus showing and telling you their experience at the school, no matter the department.

Invite these alumni to talk with you. Hear and listen to their story. They are active members of the community you are trying to service, even if they are from another state at the moment. They were once members of the community that you now serve. They know who you need to be targeting in your business.

Alumni are also great examples of successful professionals or business owners in their own right. They are able to relay information that you might be able to draw on in your endeavors. The accountant with 30 years experience might not appeal to everyone but they have 30 years worth of experience that you don’t have in your own business. Utilize that experience and invite them to show that side of them to you.

On the other side of the spectrum, speak to current students, faculty, and staff at the college. See how the industry is changing. Find out who to look out for when they graduate. Find out who are the leaders within the college, besides the dean and the heads of departments. Explore your options for resources at the source.

Don’t she away from a new networking connection, just because they are younger or less experienced than you are in a particular area. Loose ties help every business succeed.

Have business cards, or better yet promotional materials, handy

My first tailgating experience was spent handing out promotional materials. They were very successful, especially when it became known we had cooling towels for free. Free barbecue and t-shirts were also a huge hit, but everyone was intent on keeping cool in the heat of September.

Creating a material that is serviceable and relatable to guests is a great way for people to show interest in your business. While shirts are a great freebie, it doesn’t have to be as big to be as appealing. Small cooling fans and towels were the next best “sellers” when fans approached our tent. Offering free water bottles or sunglasses with a logo are just as effective on hot weekends during tailgate season.

Each promotional item that we handed out to guests also gave them a tie to our school or “business.” Whether they only took a tube of chapstick or one of our free t-shirts, they had something to remind them of our generosity and our hospitality for our fans, alumni, students, or guests before the game.

While business cards do give more information, they can also be as too loose a tie when networking at a tailgate. Business cards are great once you have a connection with someone and can promote a tie to them, but having a lot of brief connections to pass-and-go allows you to network on a much broader scale.


Tailgating with a bunch of friends can be a blast in the fall. It’s a great time to have fun and explore new things while having a common goal: usually winning a football game. Either way, tailgating is a relaxed and joyous occasion to have with colleagues, friends, and more.

It’s also a great way to network with people in business. Whether you’re wanting to branch out, get some advice, or learn something new about being successful, a tailgating event will have the people you need to find the information you seek.

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