With ‘Cougar Canyon,’ BYU ups its tailgating game

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The BYU Marching Band leads the Cougar Walk through the new Cougar Canyon tailgate area, as Brigham Young University (BYU) hosts the University of Utah, NCAA football in Provo on Thursday Aug. 29, 2019.

Provo • Tents full of catering items, TVs broadcasting football games and games geared to draw in fans filled the west side street LaVell Edwards Stadium Thursday night ahead of the big showdown between the Cougars and rival Utah.

The area, billed Cougar Canyon, is one of several ways BYU is attempting to improve the game experience for fans in the 2019 season.

The effort was met with enthusiasm from fans who admit they’ve seen and been a bit envious how other major college programs have encouraged tailgating and pregame experiences for fans.

“We’ve seen what Utah has done and we’re a little jealous,” said Derik Stevenson, a former linebacker for the Cougars from 1996-99 and was a college roommate of BYU coach Kalani Sitake.

“BYU has been reserved some and we are trying to get fans to turn int into a all day thing and be rowdy for game day.”

Cougar Canyon is designed to do just that by giving fans plenty of entertainment options such as autograph signings, live bands and photo opportunities. The Cougar Walk also winds through the section, allowing fans to greet the players as they arrive two and a half hours before kickoff.

The north side of the stadium also features a new area, a section hosted by The Tailgate Guys, which partners with local caterers to offer food, tens and games.

The Tailgate Guys offer such services at many major college football sites such as Auburn, Florida, Miami, Utah and Michigan State, according to Cameron Knapp, the senior project manager for BYU.

BYU is a logical choice for the company, Knapp said.

“They haven’t had organized tailgating in the past,” he said. “But working with coach Sitake and the others, they really want to make it a better fan experience and atmosphere.”

The packages range from $275 to $2,000, which sounds steep, but they can be split by groups of 20 or more people, Knapp said.

Of course, mention tailgating to most college fans and it’s likely they would associate such events with alcohol. However, BYU’s Honor Code prohibits alcohol and it is banned on campus.

Fan Shari Haws, whose son is backup center Caden Haws, said she hoped BYU can show tailgating can be fun without partaking in alcohol.

“You don’t have to have alcohol to have fun,” she said.

Haws is from Arkansas where tailgating is popular and hopes the game-day scenes there of dedicated fans hanging out all day can be replicated at BYU.

“Hopefully this catches on,” she said. “There needs to be tailgating for college football.”

BYU’s efforts of improving the fan experience also included some expanded areas inside the stadium. The concourses were all joined in the offseason and more bathrooms and areas for food carts were added. Future additions could include charging stations and standing tables.