The time is 6:55 p.m. on Friday, the sun is slowly setting behind the clouds and people have surrounded the perimeter of the Grove and the Circle. Others are loitering around the Union Plaza, laughing and talking to their friends holding tent sacks. The next day is a home football game, where thousands of people will join in communion to celebrate the football season, a season that was not present in the fall of 2020.
As the clock struck 7 p.m. the hoards of people surrounding the perimeters take off in a dead sprint to claim the plot of land that they deemed worthy. Similar to the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1889, minus the pitchforks and wagons. As soon as the plot is claimed, the people standing at union plaza scurry to get their tents and other belongings to the spot and start setting up their new Grove home for the next day. TVs are slung around shoulders, string lights leaving a trail behind the walker, even dogs on leashes try to engage in the action of Grove set up.
There are over 2,500 tents set up on the Grove each gameday. On average, if fans go through a tent set up company, that starting rate is around $200.
Once all the equipment for the tents is brought to the plot, workers or friends and family start decorating their new home.
The first order of business starts with assembling the tents. Once the tents are built, tables are unfolded and generators are set up. The next steps are under the discretion of the tent owner.
Jane Foster, the founder of the Zebra Tent, is all but familiar with the Grove setup. You may have seen her tent directly on the Walk of Champions. It is sure hard to miss with the bright pinks and greens mixed with a vibrant zebra print tent. The Zebra Tent has been at the Grove for many years now, even having its own feature story in Southern Living. For the Arkansas game specifically, Foster and her team set up the bones of the tent on that Friday night, which took two hours.
“My decorating team and I come out here at five in the morning. It takes two hours just to set up the tables and get all the stuff,” Foster said. “Then we come back usually around 9:30 and it takes an hour and a half to set the food out.”
The Zebra Tent has their food catered and displayed beautifully on tiered platters.
Many Oxford natives have transitioned into using tailgating companies to set up their tent for game day. J & J Tailgating has been setting up tents since 1993. Joe Varner started J & J Tailgating with his brother, who at the time was working for Magnolia Rental. However, as of seven years ago, Varner now works as the head of public relations. The company mainly focuses on tent, table and chair set up and on request, TVs and chandeliers. Not only does Varner set up tents, but Saturday after the game he takes the tents down.
“You take down your tables, your chairs and you clean up. There is a lot of trash. You’ve got garbage cans, you got garbage bags, pick all your garbage up, then take everything down and put it back in your truck, and you’re ready for the next game,” Varner said.
He recalled a story about his seventh customer, none other than Archie Manning. Although J & J Tailgating is a smaller company, it does not strike out on the community. The tent that Varner was working on during the interview was a family who has worked with J & J for several years. Varner also has an article about him on USA Today.
Elite Tailgating is a larger company that sells packages ranging from a basic package consisting of a 10-by-10 tent, table, four lawn chairs and some reusable cups to the Double Elite Tent package consisting of 10-by-20 tent, two tables, eight lawn chairs, a TV and lights to loyal Ole Miss fans. McKenzie Richardson is an employee of Elite Tailgating. He said that when the buzzer goes off at 7 p.m. he and the rest of his crew run to their designated spot and partially pop the tents up, so they can run back to the trailer and grab more supplies to set up. Richardson said it takes the team around six or seven hours to finalize the tents and an additional six or seven hours to break down the tents.
A common thread amongst every tailgating setup company is the location where tents are set up. For some, like the Zebra Tent, their location is relatively the same each week and sometimes each year. All the vendors said that by the first home football weekend, spots are determined that Friday night. A lot of the tailgate companies work with people who set their tents up themselves so everyone can have a spot on game day.