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UVA football tailgating and its impact on attendance: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Tailgating is a classic part of college football fandom, and that’s true for UVA fans. But there’s plenty that can be improved.

Richmond v Virginia Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images

Back in August we published an incredibly in-depth tailgating recipe breakdown for each and every Virginia Cavaliers football home game this fall. Today, we’re taking a more comprehensive look at tailgating for UVA football games, the experience and struggles of trying to tailgate in Charlottesville, and what it all means for Virginia’s attendance at the games themselves.

For 2007 alum and long time season ticket holder Kyle Matous, tailgating provides a special opportunity to stay connected with his alma matter. “My favorite part of tailgating is the UVA community,” he says. “With Scott Stadium being on Grounds and Grounds being quite small, it is easy to walk from spot to spot and see everyone you’d like to see fairly quickly. Plus, fall days on Grounds are hard to beat.”

Those sentiments are shared by Charlottesville local and current UVA graduate student Colin Davis who grew up tailgating and attending Virginia games with his family. “I enjoy tailgating at UVA because it’s a family tradition of mine and it’s a great way to connect with my community and the UVA fanbase,” he notes, adding that “growing up, my family tailgated with complete strangers solely because of the fact we sat in section 120 together and they ended up becoming some of our closest family friends.”

He continues, emphasizing how “now that I go to UVA, it’s much more special for me being able to celebrate one of my favorite things about the university with the people I’m closest with.”

Yet, both of these diehard Wahoo fans admit that there’s still plenty of room for improvement in regards to tailgating and attendance at football games.

“What holds our tailgating experience back is that the UVA community doesn’t show up in droves for the games,” comments Matous. “Saturdays in Charlottesville are missing the buzz our team deserves and that is necessary for the program to go where we want it to go.”

The facts line up with what the 2007 alum says. Virginia football’s attendance is far from ideal. Looking at the 2021 season, the highest percent capacity which was hit at Scott Stadium was 79% with 48,584 people showing up to see UVA kickoff against Notre Dame.

Additionally, of the seven home games in 2021, three games had less than 70% attendance with the contests against Illinois (59%, 36,036), Wake Forest (63%, 38,699), and Duke (63%, 38,489) each having pretty measly showings from the UVA community. Overall, UVA’s average attendance was 42,439, or 69.2%, in 2021. That’s 5,424 fewer people per game than UVA had in 2019 when the ‘Hoos won the ACC Coastal, beat Virginia Tech for the first time since 2003, and made it to the Orange Bowl.

While attendance numbers from the Old Dominion win haven’t been released, there were 41,222 people at Virginia’s 2022 season opener, good for 67% attendance for the first game in the Tony Elliott era.

Long story short, the state of UVA football home game attendance isn’t fantastic.

Yet, tailgating could play a part in supplementing the relatively measly showings Scott Stadium has grown accustomed to. According to Davis, attendance could be aided if tailgating was made easier for fans who can’t afford to pay for parking passes at the stadium.

“Honestly, there need to be shuttles and a shuttle route for people that tailgate at John Paul Jones Arena,” he says. “If we’re going to make the people that care the most and can’t afford a stadium spot tailgate the farthest away, then at least level the playing field by not making them walk from JPJ (which is a 1.1 mile walk away) to the stadium.”

The logistics of tailgating games have long been riddled with complaints for dedicated Wahoo fans who want a more centralized space and Davis raises a valid point regarding the difficulties of enjoying what tailgating can be at its best. Tailgating on Grounds is almost literally a mile wide and an inch deep with fans spread out in various random areas.

Fortunately, UVA has made efforts to make the experience more enjoyable for fans. Elliott establishing the “Wahoo Walk” is a fun addition to the pregame festivities while there are typically kid-friendly events at the Aquatic and Fitness Center just across the street from Scott Stadium.

All in all, tailgating is a special part of being a college football fan. Making a day out of UVA football home games is worthwhile and the experiences of tailgating is an awesome one that can bring family, friends, and strangers together to support the Wahoos. But, both the UVA community and the school itself ought to further embrace tailgating as an event and something worthwhile in order to help take this Virginia football program to the next level from both a performance and attendance standpoint.

Thanks to Micah Beutell for providing the stats used in this story.