A few weeks before football season starts, Mississippi State has unveiled the state’s first set of regulations governing commercial tailgating companies.
A school press release said the rules governing commercial tailgating companies — those that erect tailgate set-ups for customers — are designed to manage the industry’s expansion.
A committee adopted the policies after studying the issue on the Starkville campus. Members also examined similar policies at other institutions. The results showed that the expansion of the commercial tailgating business has led to tension with traditional tailgaters and those who contract with vendors.
A cornerstone of the policy, a fee commercial tailgating companies have to pay to operate on campus, will be waived this year. It will take effect next year. Companies will also have to register with the school, and notify officials how many tailgating spaces it needs. A commercial tailgating operator will be defined as any company that is paid to set up more than 10 tents. The school anticipates having 250 tailgating spaces available for commercial operators.
“We were concerned about the potential encroachment on the traditional tailgate atmosphere brought about by multiple commercial operators on campus and others seeking to begin operations,” said Don Buffum, MSU’s director of procurement and contracts. “We regret that these changes may have a negative impact on a small number of our fans but wanted to preserve the first-come, first-served tradition at MSU tailgates for the majority of fans who continue to set up their own tents.”
Buffum said some commercial tailgating companies have promised to locate customers/patrons in specific locations, an action that runs counter to the university’s long-standing first-come, first-served tailgating policy. “These new policies have nothing to do with the university trying to make money or give better spots to large donors,” Buffum said. “We are waiving the fees this year and implementing the fee next year to cover the cost of planning, marking, and policing the commercial locations to ensure fairness to all MSU fans.”
Under the policies, MSU will designate two areas for commercial tent operations — one-half of the amphitheater area and one-half of the agricultural and biological engineering building’s grass area.
A commercial operator will be defined as anyone who is paid to set up 10 or more tents. If MSU determines that an operator is setting up more than 10 tents and has not registered, the school might restrict its access to campus.
MSU anticipates having about 250 spaces available for commercial operators, Buffum said. The school will accommodate as many spaces as possible, it said, in the designated areas, but can not guarantee a certain number of spaces will be available to a particular commercial operator.
The commercial tailgating industry has expanded in Oxford, too, but not to the point that requires designated operation areas, Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said.
“Each campus will decide on its own,” he said in a phone interview last week.
Bjork said Ole Miss’ policy remains open. Tailgaters who set up their own spreads and those who pay a vendor can locate in any of the school’s tailgating areas. The only variable is who gets there first.
“But we always have to be concerned about safety and security, and who’s coming on and off your campus, how they gain access and all those sort of things,” Bjork said. “So we have to be mindful of those things moving ahead. At the same time, we have to maintain and grow and enhance the best tailgating atmosphere in college football. The balance there is always something you have to be mindful of. You always look at options, what’s out there and what other people do. That’s our job.”
The University of Southern Mississippi also does not have policies in place regulating commercial tailgating, Brent Jones, associate AD for marketing and communications, said in an email.