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As conference change looms, some tailgate traditions are sailing away

As Sun Devil football switches to the Big 12 and greets new opponents, alumni tailgaters have to adjust accordingly

ASU football fans board the sailgate boat at Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle, Wash. on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

Sun Devil football fans have one last chance to support their team, as the last game of the season closes in on Mountain America Stadium on Saturday. 

It also provides alumni with one more afternoon to engage in Sparky’s Touchdown Tailgate or huddle in local bars across the nation, bonding over a time when their team may have been better – or maybe discussing the changing landscape of ASU tailgates as it closes in on us. 

Next season, ASU will be playing in their inaugural year in the Big 12 conference, facing off against new and future foes. Some of the new teams they will face include Texas Tech, Kansas State, and Cincinnati. The new schedule poses questions for alumni on how and if they will tailgate at these new locations.    

READ MORE: Sun Devils 2024 Big 12 conference schedule officially released

Tailgating events provide alumni with a unique opportunity to stay connected to ASU and meet others who are just as passionate about Sun Devil athletics.

"When I was in college, I loved going to games, and I never knew what that would be like as a graduate away from ASU," Kate Bakamis, the president of ASU's Seattle Alumni Chapter, said. "Getting connected with the Alumni Association was such a positive influence in my life."

The evolving tailgate scene will see the end of a tradition ASU’s Seattle Chapter has for ASU's games versus Washington – the "Sailgate."

The Sailgate is a unique twist on the alumni tailgate for those who attend the games in Washington. Seas of alumni board a couple of boats, where they eat, drink and converse while at sea. The boats then dock right in front of Husky Stadium and drop the fans off at the game.

According to Parker Storry, who is an events manager with the ASU Alumni Association, the conference change will force alumni to adjust their expectations of the event. 

"I know it's not the same; it's not a Sailgate, it's not a pregame event, but they do have similar things out on the water," Storry said. "You kind of gotta shift expectations a little bit. It's still gonna be there in a different way." 

Right after the pandemic, the two boats used for the Sailgate held around 200 people, according to Storry. This year, the event sold out, with 360 people in attendance.

The glum underside to these rising numbers is that this was the last Sailgate for the foreseeable future since the Sun Devils aren’t expected to play Washington anytime soon. 

Tailgating traditions are now the latest aspect of ASU football to be shaken up due to the conference realignment. For alumni like Bakamis, tailgates have played an important role in keeping the pipeline to ASU alive post-graduation. 

Bakamis has convinced local friends in Seattle to watch Sun Devil football games with her, and she's traveled to local away games such as those in Portland, Oregon. Since her time back home in Seattle, she's attended nine or ten Sailgates.

Bakamis also said the unique event works to attract more people to the games. 

"We had a number of people when they announced the Sailgate come from out of town – from Georgia, from South Carolina, from California — who had never been up here to a game," Bakamis said. "It’s a great draw."

Similar to the players and coaches, the fans will also have to adjust to new settings. Some tailgate traditions will continue to stay, such as the Sunset Cruise, the signature summer event organized by the Seattle Chapter. 

The conference change may also provide students with new opportunities in regard to future turnaround trips. 

"Because it's one of our closest states, we should be visiting Texas next year," Jory Butters, director of events and programs at the ASU Alumni Association, said.  

Despite the Seattle Chapter lowering its sails on a tailgate tradition, it provides a path for other chapters and locations to create new practices.   

"Change is always hard initially," Bakamis said. "But I’m excited to see what it will look like from here on out."

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Grace Copperthite.

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