A recent story by KRQE News 13 highlighted drinking and partying at a tailgate two weeks ago, but Drew Ingraham, UNM’s assistant athletics director for marketing and revenue, said the criticism was overblown and the scenes were taken out of context.
“Going into this week everybody was a little frustrated by the way the whole thing was portrayed,” he said. “We feel like we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve got some things that we need to alter and change, but we’re not in any way, shape or form trying to stop the student tailgate.”
There have been many new safety precautions added since last year, with more coming this semester, he said.
To address underage drinking, wristbands are given out to students under 21, he said, distinguishing them from those old enough to legally drink.
An EMT station and multiple hydration stations are available in case an incident occurs — something that has not yet happened, he said.
Filip Matic, executive director of operations, marketing and outreach for United We Rage, said it was never about making excuses to party hard.
UWR is a non-profit, student-run program that helps plan the tailgate parties, headed by Matic and his associate Christopher Salem.
While safety is paramount, school spirit is the main goal of the tailgate — something Matic said local media seemed to ignore in their reporting.
UWR’s goal has always been to enrich school spirit with an emphasis on athletics, he said.
“When we got here there wasn’t a whole lot of school spirit, there wasn’t a whole lot of pride about being a Lobo. We wanted to try and change that,” Matic said. “At this point, our goal every single week and every single tailgate is just to do better, to improve the experience for everybody and improve our professionalism.”
Ingraham and UWR meet every week to talk about upcoming events and make changes when necessary, he said.
The tailgates were given their own section this season, moving the festivities out of South Lot and onto the grass, separate from families looking for a more laid-back experience. All music is stopped an hour prior to kickoff, giving students the initiative and time to get to their seats, Matic said.
Free food is provided as well, a new development made just this year. Jimmy John’s donated a thousand sandwiches at the last event, he said, which is a trend sure to continue into the future.
Redfish Entertainment, a corporate partner of the UNM Athletics Department, collaborates with UWR on tailgating events to provide music and a fun atmosphere, he said.
“The guys at UWR and Redfish have done a really good job helping us relay the message that the football game is the gathering point, it’s the important part of the day. And when all those pieces fall into place it’s going to be a great experience,” Ingraham said. “This is a student-based event and we want the students to have a good time. So their input and ability to help out is very well received and appreciated.”
Jon Washington, athletics marketing manager at UNM, said the forward momentum is apparent in recent ticket sales.
“We haven’t had this good of ticket distribution in 15 or 20 years,” Washington said. “This year we’ve sold out both games so far by Wednesday.”
Nearly 4,000 tickets are allocated every week to UNM students free of charge. Once those are gone, the tickets can be bought for $10 — a good deal, considering the ticket gives access to both the tailgate event and subsequent football game, Washington said.
It also ensures that students who attend the tailgate will be seated in the stadium for kickoff.
Ingraham, Washington and Matic, along with their associates, will continue to meet every week in order to discuss any problems or changes to be made. With no major incidents yet, they are more than ready to answer any upcoming challenges, Matic said.
“It’s a dialogue; we’re always trying to do something better,” Matic said. “I think it gets kind of misconstrued when people just see specific footage of events and all they see is a party, when it’s so much bigger than that. We are bringing attention to this school, we’re bringing a positive light to this school because kids are having a fun time and we’re bringing a safe environment.”
Matt Reisen is a freelance writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.