As the football season kicks off, Giants, Jets and Rutgers fans face a much more expensive tailgate reality. Wells Fargo is out with a new report that examined how inflation will affect the pre-game practice this football season. The report was compiled by Wells Fargo economists Sarah House, Michael Pugliese and Karl Vesely.
“With the end of summer in sight, football fans have begun to get excited for the start of a new season,” the authors wrote. “But this year, fans will not just be coping with the usual parking lot traffic and last second heartbreak. They will also be dealing with some of the fastest inflation seen in decades. Prices have surged over the past year for gasoline, flights and many of the staple foods found at tailgates and watch parties.”
The report used data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Wells Fargo Economics Group and football team marketing reports, noting that July’s consumer prices rose 8.5% from a year earlier.
Before food, drinks and snacks come into the equation, fans will have to navigate getting to the game.
“Travel costs stand to be the biggest pain point of this year’s tailgating festivities,” the authors said, citing prices at the pump, which have declined in recent weeks but are still significantly higher than a year ago. Prices in New Jersey are basically in line with the national average and the trend is lower. But it still costs more to fill up than it used to. (See related story, page 9.)
Fans who drive to the game will still face costs for parking and tolls as well.
The report notes that flying to go see your favorite team will cost you 28% more than last year and now sits 16% higher than in the summer of 2019.
Because of these factors, the authors have a recommendation for fans.
“If routes allow, game goers should opt for the bargain offered by mass transit, where prices are up a paltry 0.5% since last football season,” they said. “For those traveling overnight to the game and not bunking with friends or family, hotel costs are up a relatively benign 1.3% relative to a year ago.”
The report next examined the party part of tailgating and posed the question of whether to skimp on the food in favor of libations.
“Once arrived, cracking open a beer is often the first order of business at a tailgate,” they wrote. “Beer prices have risen 4.6% over the past year – more than wine and liquor – but are downright tame when compared to how much the food spread will set tailgaters back.”
Grocery prices have jumped 13.1% since last July – the biggest one-year gain since 1979. And many of the stars of a tailgate food spread are leading that charge.
“Prices for hot dogs and other franks have increased 5.3% over the past year, surpassed in the grilling realm by ground beef and chicken (up 9.7% and 17.6% respectively),” the authors said. “Pork ribs might be a more palatable option having risen a less-severe 1.6% over the past year.”
One of their recommendations to bring down food costs – and calorie counts – was to add more fresh fruit and vegetables to the mix, since prices are up only mid-single digits year-over-year. That idea is unlikely to be embraced by most of the hardcore tailgaters. The authors also note that propane and firewood cost about 22% more than last year.
And all of that might be good news for New Jersey’s struggling restaurant industry.
“Given the double-digit increases in food and cooking fuel, grabbing food to go from a restaurant may feel like a somewhat better value after prices advanced ‘only’ 7.6% since last summer,” the report recommends.
Then there is the decision of whether to go into the stadium. And if fans do decide to just tailgate and not actually attend the game, where are the best options to watch it?
“For some fans, tailgating is the highlight of game day, but for die-hards the day won’t be complete without attending the game,” the authors said. “Tickets for live sports are one of the few items to have fallen in price over the past year, according to the July CPI report. But admissions costs have rebounded sharply of late, rising 5% month-over-month in July.”
But with those costs, plus potential sellouts, combined with everything else fans are paying more for, many are likely to head out from the tailgate to a bar or home to watch the game.
“The cost of grabbing a beer or other alcoholic drink at the nearby watering hole has risen nearly twice as fast as alcohol off-premise consumption this past year,” the authors said. “Heading home to watch the game therefore could be a comparatively good value, particularly as the cost of upgrading your TV has tumbled nearly 15% over the past year, and cable/satellite prices have risen less than the overall CPI, up 3.6% year-over-year.”
While these inflationary trends are an ugly reality for fans eager to get back to their team’s home stadiums and tailgate with fellow fans, the x-factor is the popularity of football, especially coming out of the pandemic as demand surges for live experiences.
“Despite the highest inflation in four decades eroding consumers’ purchasing power, Americans remain eager to get out and partake in experiences missed over the past couple years,” the authors said.
The report noted that sporting events appear to remain a clear favorite for how consumers like to spend their time and money. And fans particularly love to tailgate this time of year. One lap through the MetLife Stadium or the SHI Stadium parking lots this past weekend would confirm that, as fans turned out to watch their teams’ home openers. The report found that spectator sports have been one of the strongest areas of inflation-adjusted spending lately, up more than 150% over the past year and up 32% since COVID-19 emerged.
“However, with inflation continuing to rage, we would not be surprised if fans became a bit more selective in how they celebrate football season this year as some fans choose to tailgate a little closer to home, eat less, drink more, or even stay home to watch the game on a new discounted TV,” the authors concluded.
Here in the Garden State, much of the fans’ inflation pain threshold will also rest on the performances of the Giants, Jets and Scarlet Knights.