Texas football tailgaters adapt to fall restrictions

Stephen Wagner

Tailgating before Texas football games is about more than football for Todd and Andrea Summy. Over the last 14 years, tailgating has been a medium for making new friends, fostering relationships and developing a close-knit community of 75-100 people on game days. 

But after a summer of contemplation, the Summys decided last week that they would not tailgate or attend UT football games this fall, citing the unpredictability of the 2020 college football season. 

“We decided that it’s very uncertain what is going to happen (this football season),” Todd said. “(UT) hasn’t done a very good job of passing confidence onto us that we are going to have a season no matter what. There’s nothing worse than putting a tailgate together and finding out there’s just no tailgate.”

With the details on fan attendance at UT football games rapidly changing, so is the probability of having traditional tailgates in the fall. On July 31, Texas Athletics announced a list of changes to the football game day experience, including exclusively mobile ticketing and mandatory masks for fans. Additionally, Texas Athletics announced tailgating restrictions, which will require groups to be 25 or fewer people and at least 40 feet from other tailgates. 

Ryan Lepper, owner of Horn-Ball Texas Tailgaters, one of the largest tailgates in the country, is determined to press on. Horn-Ball, which typically hosts between 500-1,000 people on game day, plans to tailgate in a series of individual tents, all socially distanced and containing no more than 10 members from the same household, pending approval from the state. Lepper said it would take a massive spike in positive COVID-19 cases to cancel the tailgate. 

“If the University is going to have a game, we’re going to tailgate,” Lepper said. 

Lepper believes it will be possible to maintain a sense of community among tailgaters even with tents socially distanced. 

“You’re still going to be in an environment where other people are going to be tailgating, they’re just going to be away from you,” Lepper said. “We will still have a DJ blasting out music for everybody here. There will still be a party atmosphere, it will just be done in a way that people are separated.” 

Although the Summys plan on finding a tailgating alternative, whether it’s meeting at someone’s house or going to a state park, Andrea said it will be difficult to maintain the level of camaraderie that has developed over the years. 

“With the tailgate and the type of friendship I have (with other tailgaters), I would not be able to continue (the sense of community),” Andrea said. “We just had that camaraderie, that link of friendship.”