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The term “tailgating” came into being from the notion that sports fans would open the tailgates of their station wagons, cook, serve and enjoy food and companionship in the parking lot of an arena or stadium before attending a sporting event. Over the decades tailgating has become an elaborate activity. Specialized equipment, from barbecue trailers to vehicles devoted solely to tailgate use, has come on the scene. It is not uncommon for uniformed tailgating teams to become local or even national celebrities.

Though outdoor cooking in and around sporting events has been commonplace since the nineteenth century, the modern phenomenon of tailgating really took off in the early 1970s at college football games and later became popular at professional football and other sporting events. Recent surveys have indicated that up to one quarter of all fans attending NFL (National Football League) games are active tailgaters.

Major food and cooking equipment companies now sponsor tailgating events. Devotees can easily spend many thousand of dollars on tailgating, far eclipsing the money spent for the actual sports tickets. Sports teams and communities have occasionally objected to the tailgating phenomenon or attempted to ban tailgating on the grounds that the practice promotes litter and creates crowd control issues.