CORRECTION APPENDED: Tyler Fisher, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, was misquoted in this story. He used the word “fraternity” to describe his fraternity, not “frat.”
Look around you before the football game tomorrow. In the midst of the two-story beer bongs, bratwursts and the bongo man, there’s another subculture.
Michigan football games have become a feeding frenzy for marketers and brand promoters looking reach out to the crowds of students and fans tailgating before kickoff.
Student tailgates are a marketing opportunity because of the mutually beneficial relationships that companies and party hosts can strike. Parties benefit from increased attendance and hype surrounding their tailgates, while companies can promote their brands to an all-important market at little to no cost.
Connell Brown Jr., a promoter for Vitamin Water who blasts the fight song from the parked Vitamin Water truck on Hoover Street during football Saturdays, said the reason they come out every game day is simple.
“U of M is one of the top collegiate markets in the country,” he said.
He isn’t alone in his thinking.
On any given Saturday before a home game, parties on State Street and beyond are lined with promoters pumping up both the crowd and their products.
A banner hangs outside one house located at the epicenter of student tailgating at State and Hoover streets encouraging football fans to “Go to Campus Corner.”
Ross Drath, an LSA junior who lives in the house, known to many as BOX because of the Greek letters on the front, said there’s nothing formal about the arrangement with the popular liquor store. The residents of the house hang the banner and, in exchange, they often get discounts from the store.
“It’s kind of a tradition,” he said. “They just gave it to us. We’re friends with the guys.”
Joe Kraim, a manager at Campus Corner, emphasized that there was no money involved in the transaction.
“Most of the people around here are our friends,” he said.
Some arrangements are even more informal.
Engineering senior Chris Williams, a member of Alpha Delta Phi, a fraternity with a house on State Street, said Red Bull promoters sometimes just “show up” on their lawn on game days. With no complaints about free Red Bull, the brothers allow it.
Fraternity houses on State Street are often tar geted by companies because of their popular location and size of their tailgates.
Chi Psi, located at the corner of State and Madison streets, is home to WDFN Sports Radio on football Saturdays.
Sean Mceachia, a promotional assistant for the station, said that being there is valuable for both the station and the fraternity.
“We’re trying to come into the college market,” he said.
Like other marketers, they give away promotional products and stage contests to draw people to their tent.
LSA sophomore Mike Rorro, Chi Psi’s chair of football Saturdays, said that even though the house doesn’t get paid, the radio station provides some fun for the alumni, brothers and guests at the house.
“Everyone that is here loves it,” he said. “It’s just an extra something to do on the lawn.”
Some houses, however, are lucky enough to strike more lucrative gigs.
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company has a prominent presence on the lawn of the Phi Kappa Psi house, located across Madison Street from Chi Psi, during certain football games.
Phi Kappas Psi President Ben Glaze said that although he initially had qualms about allowing the tobacco company to set up shop during tailgates, he said the company talked with him, convincing him that it wasn’t trying to get new people to chew tobacco. So he agreed to let the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company set up a tent.
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company purchases small amounts of food and non-alcoholic beverages for Phi Kappa Psi’s tailgates and rush events in exchange for being able to give away promotional products and conduct optional surveys on the lawn, Glaze said.
Glaze said that U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company’s presence doesn’t really draw anybody to the tailgate who wouldn’t have come otherwise. Glaze said his fraternity agrees to the deal mostly for the free food.
Tyler Fisher, the president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said Skoal smokeless tobacco approached his fraternity about promoting during football Saturdays. But the fraternity’s executive board said no.
“I made up my mind about this that it wasn’t something that I wanted my frat to be associated with,” he said.
Glaze said his fraternity won’t allow the tobacco company to promote before more visible games, such as the Ohio State game.
Ann Arbor ordinances prohibit unlicensed solicitors and peddlers from city streets and sidewalks.
But promoters don’t meet the outlined definitions because they don’t travel from place to place and aren’t attempting to sell anything.
As long as they don’t block streets or sidewalks or try to actually sell anything, marketers can promote on private property as long as they have the permission of the residents.
LSA junior Lisa Kurajian, who lives at the house on the corner of Hoover and Mary streets where Vitamin Water sets up a trailer, said she couldn’t disclose the details of their unofficial contract with Vitamin Water but said “they really hook us up.”
Vitamin Water has promoted at that location in the past. A marketing director for the company lives nearby and seeks out that house because of its prime visibility, Kurajian said.
Kurajian said that the arrangement works in her house’s favor – not only because of the influx of free Vitamin Water but because her house’s tailgates become a lot more exciting.