By Clint Kimberling
Photos provided by Southern Tradition Tailgating
Like all good business ideas, Southern Tradition Tailgating was born out of necessity.
Brad Vickers first had the thought for a tailgating service almost 10 years ago. He remembers the moment distinctly. It was 2008 during his second year at Mississippi State as a professor. During a fall Saturday in the Junction, while waiting for kickoff, he wanted to watch his graduate alma mater, University of Georgia, but he couldn’t find a TV anywhere at the tailgate. He eventually did find a place to watch the game, but he thought to himself, “there’s has to be a better way.”
That spark of inspiration was all he needed to start Southern Tradition Tailgating – he envisioned a tailgate rental company that took the entire headache out of tailgating and would allow customers to focus on relaxing and getting ready for the game. There was not much traction for the idea at first but Vickers recalls when the corner was turned. Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2009 he sold his first tailgating package for the 2009 season. “I just thought it was so awesome people were going to pay us for this.”
Southern Tradition offers premium tailgating services at Mississippi State football games. Customers can buy complete tailgating rental packages that also include convenience set-up and take-down services. The only things customers have to worry about are food and drinks. A standard Southern Tradition tailgate rental package includes a 10 x 20 premium tent, a 32-inch flat screen TV, Dish Network receiver, two tables, chairs, and lighting. Most importantly, customers enjoy the convenience of setup and takedown of all equipment plus onsite staff for troubleshooting and maintenance.
Southern Traditions also offers fully customizable tailgate packages. Vickers boasts, “We can make your tailgate as big, or as small, as customer wants. We can add-on a bigger TV, more chairs, a second tent, even provide coolers. We’re only limited by a customer’s budget.”
The Southern Traditions team has tailgating setup down to a science as they head into their ninth football season as the exclusive tailgate provider for Mississippi State and Bulldog Sports Properties. Even with all the experience, it’s an incredibly labor intensive process. On home game weekends, beginning at 5:30 a.m., a crew of about 30 people arranges the table and tent. They continue to work on the electrical setup, including satellite dishes until 4:00 p.m.
On Saturday morning, they put in place the lights, generators, TVs. After kickoff, there is a lot of down time that is mostly spent checking on customer tents and making sure everything is working properly. The crew starts to break down tents and equipment around 10:00 p.m. and will remain on site until about 3 a.m. on Sunday morning. “There’s not much sleep during the season,” Vickers tells me. “But it’s rewarding when it all goes off without a hitch.”
Southern Tradition started out doing 24 setups their first season. And this year they will do close to 150 tailgates. Vickers still recalls to some of the growing pains from that first season. There was a rainy home opener that left a lot of their equipment destroyed, tents blown all over the place, and wet TVs. “We really thought we were in over our heads,” Vickers says thinking back. “But by the fourth game we kind of got our feet under us.”
As a company, they’ve been careful not to grow too fast for danger of sacrificing quality and customer service. Vickers explains, “I like to have relationships with our customers. More than just tailgating, I feel like I’m really in customer service business.”
Vickers feels like Starkville doesn’t really get its due as a great tailgating atmosphere. And take it from him because he’s been to tailgates all over the country, he says it’s one of the best venues that he’s seen. “The sheer number of fans,” he explains, “is incredible. You just don’t see that many tents anywhere.” He goes on, saying, “There’s more space here, you can spread out, throw the football or play cornhole. It’s more of a community.”
Vickers encourages tailgaters to show up early and make it a full day. “I never understood why some folks come an hour before kickoff. I mean you only get 7 Saturdays each fall, so take full advantage of the atmosphere and community.”