NFL fans don't have much motivation to leave their den of satellite football packages, bottomless snacks, discounted beer and heat/air conditioning to attend a football game. Tailgating is the live football equalizer.
Last season, NFL fans paid an average of nearly $90 for tickets to the game and between $20 and $60, on average, for parking, according to Team Marketing Report. If you're shoving six friends into the family sedan and packing a camp stove into the trunk alongside a sad little cooler of burgers, dogs and beers, you're barely making your tailgate worth the price of admission. People are converting busses into tailgate party palaces and welding grills, smokers and stoves onto trailers that they can pull in an out of the lot at their leisure. Even if your car doesn't have the space and amenities to make a decent tailgate work, it might be worth renting or even borrowing a vehicle that does.
The current selection vehicles features second-row refrigerators, Wi-Fi hotspots for fantasy football updates, built-in coolers and a whole lot of other audio and video entertainment options. Why? Because tailgating is a big-money industry. According to a survey conducted by tailgating industry site Tailgating.com, 42% of tailgaters spend $500 or more on tailgating each season. Roughly 67% of tailgaters go to games six to 15 times each football season, including playoff and college games. More than half arrive three to four hours before kickoff, 95% prepare their food at the stadium and 59% use a combination of grills, stoves and smokers to do so.
With 60% of tailgaters between the ages of 25 and 44 and 73% having a college degree or better, they have the time and the expendable income to make their tailgating dream a reality. If you'd like to do the same, it helps to have the right vehicle for your needs. With help from the folks at automotive pricing and buying site Kelley Blue Book and its used-car sibling site AutoTrader, we came up with ten vehicles perfect for a full day at the game:
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Starting price: $229,100
If you don't think someone will take a chance and roll a six-figure SUV into a stadium parking lot, you haven't seen NFL markets recently. With teams in Silicon Valley, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, two in Los Angeles and two in New York (or at least right in the middle of Bergen County and Hoboken/Jersey City money in New Jersey), there's a whole lot of money to throw at tailgate toys just like this one.
That's why folks won't think twice about pulling a 600-horsepower, W-12 engine into the lot and cranking sound out of a customizable 1,950-watt, 18-speaker Naim sound system. The kids can play on the 10.2-inch Android tablet screens in the rear while the adults make themselves comfortable on the optional slide-out leather "Event Seat." Meanwhile, if you have the cash to throw around, why not spring for the optional hamper system and its three removable storage boxes? One loaded with crystal and fine china (easily swapped out for Solo and Dixie products), another with a compact powered cooler and a third with extra storage space and a cashmere picnic rug (which can also be taken out and replaced with something that requires less dry cleaning). If NFL owners think nothing of dropping $2 billion of theirs and taxpayers' money on new stadiums, why shouldn't fans show up in vehicles priced like small homes?
Starting price: $22,595
A high roof, hidden storage beneath the rear floor and upgraded tech features make the Forester a score for tailgating buyers.
The Forester's interior is bigger than both the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape and includes 34 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up. Subaru's added Bluetooth connectivity to all its models made rearview cameras standard, added its Starlink touchscreen information and entertainment system and threw in options including a power liftgate and voice-activated GPS. It's a school shuttle, but all that space and storage comes in handy in the stadium parking lot on a Sunday.
Starting price: $28,995
By offering features like leather seats, a three-panel sunroof and noise cancellation, Chrysler is really trying to lock up the "luxury minivan" market. At it's core, though, this is still a tailgater's dream. Stow-and-Go seats that fold into the floor, handleless sliding doors, an available vacuum, an optional 13-speaker sound system, 3,600 pounds of towing capacity (for the grill and smoker) and a UConnect system that turns the Pacifica into a Wi-Fi hotspot makes it a near-perfect gameday studio. However, the 140.5 cubic feet of storage with all seats down and nearly 80 with the third row down give it all the space your crew will ever need.
Starting price: $30,025
Basically a minivan in a crossover's body, the Flex has room for seven, 44 inches of legroom in the second row and a power folding mechanism for getting into the third row. A surprising amount of headroom make easy to transport a large crew or throw some gear in the back and take a long trip all while giving them enough room to maneuver regardless of height.
Options such as sliding second-row captain's seats, Microsoft Sync phone, entertainment and navigation systems in its MyFord Touch screen, DVD entertainment center for the back, a multipanel sunroof, a third-row seat that flips into a rear-facing tailgate bench and a second-row fridge console that holds a six pack of cans. The 12-volt outlet in the rear cargo area, optional 110-volt inverter and 80 cubic feet of total cargo room give the Flex a surprising gameday advantage.
Starting price: $29,750
The Sienna has some stiff competition among tailgate minivans, but this isn't its first time playing the game. Its entire second row slides up to allow third-row access and the second and third rows can fold away if there's a need for extra storage. That 39 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row can expand to as much as 150 cubic feet with the seats away.
With power sliding doors, keyless entry, power liftgate in the back, second, row climate controls, a sliding center console, panoramic moon roof, backup cameras and Entune entertainment and information system all available, the Sienna is only giving families more to love by raising the stakes on its rivals.
Starting price $29,475
Tailgaters couldn't welcome this vehicle back quickly enough after it went on hiatus in 2014. You can't go wrong tailgating from a pickup truck, but few come with key perks as game-ready as the Ridgeline's.The truck's 1,500 pounds of payload capacity is great for hauling grills, chairs, coolers and anything else, but the 7.3 cubic-foot trunk under the pickup bed is basically a 200-quart cooler. Dump in some ice, drop in the cans and bottles of your choosing and pull up a seat. There's no use moving when you're already where the party's at.
Oh, and don't worry about missing any of the pregame action. You can listen to the radio call through six speakers in the cargo bed or power up a television with help from a 110-volt power inverter. There are better working trucks out there, but there are few built as well for tailgating as the Ridgeline.
Starting price: $29,850
Why would you redesign a near-perfect tailgating SUV? Well, you saw the entries for the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica, right. The other minivans are catching up, but the Odyssey can still carry up to eight fans with enough room behind them for a small grill. More importantly, it can carry five fans, collapse the third row and have 93.1 cubic feet for more storage. Those same fans get all the same perks, too, as the Honda's optional ultrawide 16.2-inch split screen entertainment system still offers them something to stare at before kickoff.
Best of all, this family minivan comes with a whole lot of options basically built for a day at the game. The Odyssey's removable center console offers a useful flip-up trash-bag holder, and there's also a "cool box" beverage cooler to accommodate chilled refreshments. Meanwhile, an in-cabin vacuum is an available option for fans who just know that a healthy percentage of their tailgate's snacks are going to end up on the floor.
Starting price: $34,210
The 4Runner's weathered slumping sales and an SUV resurgence. Its stadium-friendly options include power outlets in the cargo space for hooking up a television or other electronic devices, an optional 15-speaker JBL sound system, the Entune App Suite for mobile apps and data, nearly 90 square feet of cargo room and an optional sliding cargo deck. That last feature basically takes out the need for a folding table by providing counter space strong enough to hold 400 pounds of food and beverages. Go ahead, spring for the six-foot sub. The 4Runner has you covered and is just happy you haven't left it for a crossover.
Starting price: $26,495
Ever wonder what's going on in the space between your pickup's cargo bed and its rear wheel fenders? Not much, which is why Ram fitted them with RamBox locking compartments with drain plugs that are advertised as mini trunks or toolboxes, but are clearly meant to be coolers.
Don't believe us? Ask Ram, which not only made RamBoxes waterproof and drainable, but says "both sides fit up to 240 cans of your favorite beverage in a 5'7 bed or 280 cans in a 6'4 bed configuration." Combine that with 74.7 cubic feet cargo capacity and 1,300 to 1,600 pounds of payload capacity, and you've got yourself a party machine.
Oh, and the Ram 1500's available UConnect WiFi — allows your tailgate buddies to set their fantasy football lineups through a private internet network accessible within 150 radius of the truck.
Starting price: $27,110
The best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than three decades running is the tailgate wagon of choice for a whole lot of the nation's fans. After a big upgrade for 2015, however, it just got a lot better.
Throw a spray-in bed liner in the back and a cap on any F-150 and you get a fairly ideal tailgate vehicle. Add the optional Sony 700-watt audio system features with CD player, 10 speakers and subwoofer, Ford's Sync 3 smartphone hookups and an inverter that offers up to 400 watts at 110 volts for televisions radios and more, and you have yourself a rolling media center. Top it off with electric outlets and under-seat storage in the cab and LED spotlights and tailgate step in the back and you have yourself a better seat in the parking lot than you will anywhere beyond the club seats and luxury boxes in the stadium.