Food Week: Growing the game, one grill at a time

Anyone familiar with the American sports-going scene knows tailgating is one of the hallowed traditions of American sports, and MLS and the American soccer community have proved no exception to the rule.

Everywhere from those bottom-of-the-table clashes on a scorching midsummer day to the national team’s highly anticipated showdowns with the likes of Spain and Brazil, you will find thousands of fans enjoying food, drink and good company prior to any given match.

In fact, the organized nature of soccer supporters’ groups lends itself to organizing prematch festivities, and no one does it better than D.C. United’s Screaming Eagles.

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Whether it’s the sheer numbers making up the tailgate or the variety of food and drink available, the Screaming Eagles have established themselves as some of the premier tailgaters among MLS supporters’ groups.

Just reading through the menu of a typical Screaming Eagles tailgate is enough to whet the appetite.

“Our normal food for a tailgate is burgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, brats, chorizo, pizza, chicken breasts, ravioli, peppers and onions, beans, potato and/or macaroni salads and chip,” explains group vice president and tailgate organizer Jeff Howdeshell.

And that’s just what the supporters’ group pays for. With Howdeshell estimating two pieces of meat for each person expected, feeding the average of 200 people that show up at any given tailgate (though they've gotten up to 745) is no mean feat, and those who show up bring plenty more plates, desserts and size.

But nor is a Screaming Eagles tailgate necessarily limited to the typical fare you might find at other tailgates across the country. As Howdeshell explains, “We do several 'theme' menus where we may add something like roasted pig, jambalaya, etc.”

Of course, the consumption of all that food is bound to send folks looking to slake their thirst, which is why in addition to the massive quantities of food consumed, the Screaming Eagles normally bring five kegs of beer and 10-plus cases of water and soft drinks.

Naturally, all this comes at a price. Though the Screaming Eagles do budget annually for tailgates, make money through ticket sales for games and charge for both member and non-member tailgates, they do operate the events at a loss. According to Howdeshell, though, that’s just fine.

“We expect to and do lose money on the tailgates, but we do it as a loss-leader to encourage new members and thank our members,” he says.

It’s certainly not a money-making endeavor, but then again, why should it be? By attracting new fans and satiating the returning ones, tailgating is not only a fantastic way to enhance the match-going experience, it can be one of the cornerstone’s to growing the game in America.