The Naval Academy's long-standing alumni tailgate is ending, irking some fans
By BROOKS DUBOSE | The Capital | Published: August 31, 2019
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Dan Lear has been a Navy football season ticket holder for more than 40 years. A 1968 Naval Academy graduate, Lear and his wife trek from Virginia Beach to attend the Saturday home games.
Since the mid-'90s, Lear estimated, he made sure to stop by the tailgate hosted by the Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation, tucked away in the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium’s north end where alumni gather before games.
This season, the more than 20-year-old tradition will come to an end, the alumni association announced this month.
“It was an opportunity to get together and continue friendships that had been started,” said Lear, a retired captain, who at one time was on the alumni association’s membership committee that proposed the idea of a tailgate to raise funds. “We were struggling for money. … It was designed to sell tickets and enhance the experience.”
The tailgate has been incorporated into the Anchor Club at Captain’s BBQ, a private tent inside the stadium, and will be hosted by the school’s athletic association.
“We’re changing up our football hospitality model this year, and look forward to seeing you at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this season,” the alumni association wrote on its website.
The event will be held on the southeast end of the stadium on the concourse, giving alumni a “better experience during the game” because the field is visible, said Kristen Pironis, a spokeswoman for the alumni association.
Event tickets are going for $65 for fans with a football ticket and $85 for standing room only for those without. Catered food and a cash bar will be provided through the end of the game, according to the site.
Some alumni, like Eric Mulville, a class of 1995 graduate, feel the new event prices out some alumni who could afford the $40 charge for the alumni tailgate, which included food and drinks in the price.
“It’s a deterrent. If it was $65 and included everything (like food and drinks) up through the end of the game that might have been acceptable if you were talking about Jerry’s World and the Dallas Cowboys, but this is Navy football,” Mulville said.
Mulville estimated about 35 to 50 alumni attended the tailgate each week, with other fans in attendance pushing that number closer to 100.
But tailgate attendance had been declining in recent years, which is one of the reasons for the cancellation, Pironis said.
There still will be four “milestone” events alumni can attend at the stadium throughout the season, including games against East Carolina on Sept. 14, Air Force on Oct. 5, Tulane on Oct. 26 and Southern Methodist on Nov. 23. Navy’s annual game against Army will be played in Philadelphia this year.
“We’re focusing on four games instead of six,” Pironis said. “We want to make sure we’re serving our alumni well.”
More than 50 classes and chapters host separate tailgates in the parking lot, Pironis added.
“The culture is being in the parking lot," she said.
Lear didn’t know the alumni tailgate was canceled until a friend told him a few weeks ago.
He said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the long-standing tailgate was no more, adding that he wouldn’t be attending the new athletic association-hosted event and would instead spend the pregame hours in the parking lot.
Melville said he too would return to his class tailgate rather than spend more money to attend the new event.
“The bottom line was I was disappointed it no longer afforded me the opportunity to get together with those people,” Lear said. “Over the years we developed that camaraderie, and it was nice to see those folks.”