High tech scores big with tailgaters

Gear: Pro football fans with dreams of being parking-lot all-stars are proudly sporting everything from satellite television setups to top-of-the-line food prep items designed with them in mind.

December 09, 2004|By Rasheim T. Freeman | Rasheim T. Freeman,SUN STAFF

Kenny Day, Tailgaters are investing in technology to spice up their parking-lot parties, impress their friends and take advantage of modern conveniences.

Along with elaborate spreads of food and drink, fans are carting expensive grills, gas-powered blenders, flat-screen televisions and satellite dishes to stadium parking lots. And the technology industry is doing its best to capitalize on the interest.

Companies like Rhode Island-based KVH Industries Inc. sell a satellite system for tailgaters who want to stay connected with sports, news and movie channels. The technology beams 140 channels to cars, minivans and sport-utility vehicles through a small antenna. The system, which sells for about $2,000, targets the growing number of tailgaters using mobile entertainment systems during their parties.

Satellite radio also is becoming popular with tailgaters: One radio company offers an NFL package while another provides links to ESPN.

And entrepreneurs like Steve Reid have identified other opportunities. A machinist who builds NASA space station parts during the day, Reid of Los Gatos, Calif., designed a gas-powered blender for tailgating enthusiasts. The $259 Daiquiri Whacker uses a weed-trimming engine to mix drinks and crush ice. Its target audience is boaters, campers and high-tech tailgaters.

"Tailgating is huge" for our business, said Reid, whose invention has been featured on The Tonight Show and the Best Damn Sports Show. "For the first time in eight years, I am in back order."

The Coleman Company, a maker of outdoor recreation products that was founded in 1900, has reinvented its old line of camp stoves and outdoor accessories to appeal to the burgeoning population of high-tech tailgaters. The company introduced a new Road Trip line of products in 2002, which include grills that hook up to ignition switches and coolers that keep ice cold for up to six days.

"Because of the success ... we have expanded the line to include about 10 new products for the boating, camping and tailgating crowd," Coleman spokeswoman Ann Walden said.

The average tailgater spends about $500 a year in accessories for their parties, according to tailgater. com. And many fans invest more than the average tailgater - be it in money, time or simple ingenuity.

Kenny Day of Richmond, Va., spent $80,000 on a recreational vehicle that he takes to Ravens home games. It includes an external entertainment center that allows him to power a television and other electronics. DirectTV is beamed to the vehicle, so Day can catch sporting events and other programs during his tailgating festivities.

"I really like to tailgate with my friends so that I can be the No. 1 tailgater out there," Day said. "I want people to say, `Wow, these guys have satellites, these guys have everything set up out here.' "

Bob Pantall of Kent Island attaches his home satellite dish to the back of his pickup truck so he can watch pregame shows before heading into M&T Bank Stadium.

"I like to keep an eye out on ESPN so that I can see all the game-time decisions and stats of the game," Pantall said.

And then there are Ravens fans such as Rodger Brummett of Brooklyn Park, who started a Web site to highlight his feuds with rival football fans and his tailgating parties. Brummett, a network engineer for Northrop Grumman, and two of his friends launched www.ravenstail gating.com in 2001.

There aren't many high-tech gadgets on Brummett's vehicle, which he has named the "Emergency Response Tailgating Unit." But he has hopes of adding some soon, saying his inspiration comes from other high-tech vehicles such as the "Battlewagon" in Minnesota, which boasts a retractable satellite dish and an on-board personal weather station.

There's also the "Madden Cruiser," used by broadcaster John Madden. That vehicle has satellite television and radio, three plasma TV screens, and wireless Internet access.

And then there's Joe Cahn of New Orleans, who calls himself the "commissioner of tailgating" and travels to various sporting events around the country. His tailgating parties include play-by-play of football games and NASCAR races thanks to satellite television and radio beamed to his recreational vehicle.

After seeing so many different uses of technology at different tailgating events, Cahn said he expects this increased use to reach a breaking point sooner or later.

"At this point, I've seen the hot tub in Detroit, the television trailer in Phoenix and somebody giving directions using [global positioning system] tracking equipment," he said. " I just don't see what else fans can do."

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