Many can debate which city has the best parking lot parties, but what are the actual cheapest cities for tailgating in the NFL? This list is not about which stadiums have the cheapest beer or the most inexpensive nachos, but this is for the intrepid tailgater lugging coolers of thawing burgers and piles of Tupperware filled with marinating chicken in the back of the SUV to the stadium to set up portable grills, pop-up tents and beach chairs hours before kickoff.
Finding the cheapest NFL cities for tailgating
We singled out eight of the most essential tailgate staples like grilling meats (rib eye, ground beef, sausage and frying chicken), snacks (potato chips and Coca-Cola) and alcohol (beer and wine) and ranked the average price of these items in each NFL city. We averaged each city’s eight items costs across the board to determine the most affordable cities.
Out of that ranking came these, the top 10 (well, 11 as there was a tie for 10th) cheapest NFL cities for tailgate essentials.
10 (tie). Orchard Park, NY (Buffalo)
There are few heartier fans in the NFL than those in Buffalo. The city was ranked by The Weather Channel as the “Worst Weather City in the NFL.” Blowing winds, freezing temperatures and the snowiest stadium in the league make it a tough go for parking lot tailgaters. Even tougher for Bills fans is the fact that 40-year-old New Era Field stadium sits 11 miles south of downtown Buffalo in Orchard Park.
Despite the cold and the snow, intrepid Bills tailgaters throw some epic parking lot parties. Buffalo is a meat town and the grills are hopping any given Sunday at “The Lid,” and the smell of wings permeates the grounds. Good thing that Buffalo is the fifth cheapest city in the league for frying chicken. Add in the most inexpensive ground beef prices in the NFL, and you have a recipe for a hot plate to keep the cold and snow away.
If you shack up in snowy Western New York, you’re going to spend a lot of days in between Bills games stuck indoors. Plan accordingly, as rent for an average one-bedroom apartment in Orchard Park lists for $883 a month.
10 (tie). Chicago, IL
Speaking of harsh conditions, there’s no doubt a game in Chicago ranks as one of the coldest, windiest and snowiest experiences in the NFL, as well. Generations of Bears fans have braved the wind chills and lake effect snow coming off Lake Michigan and into the parking lots of Soldier Field right on the shore of the fifth biggest lake in the world to get their fill of Italian beef and Chicago dogs.
A day at Soldier Field is an intimate experience. Opened in 1924, the oldest stadium in the NFL (discounting the Rams’ temporary home of Los Angeles Coliseum) is also third-smallest in the league despite sitting in the third biggest city in the U.S.
And good news for those Bears tailgate partiers trying to stave off the cold: Beer prices in the city of Chicago are the second cheapest in the league, so enjoy your frozen beer pong and kegs wrapped in electric blankets. (Have no fear, designated drivers: The Windy City is also the second cheapest for Coca-Cola, too.)
Good thing tailgates are among the most inexpensive in the NFL because living in Chicago certainly is not. A one-bedroom unit in Chi-town rents for $1,908 a month on average.
9. Glendale, AZ (Phoenix)
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the sunny and warm Sonoran Desert of Phoenix. With winter temperatures averaging a balmy 68 degrees, tailgates around newly-renamed State Farm Stadium are the land of shorts and T-shirt-clad Cardinals fans playing cornhole and giant Jenga and enjoying the pregame sun with a drink in one hand and a full plate in the other.
As the biggest city in the Southwest, Cards game tailgates are heavy on Mexican and Sonoran flavors. Tailgaters slinging tortillas will be happy to know that Phoenix is the third most affordable city in the NFL for sausage and 10th for steak, so fire up those carne asada tacos and chorizo nachos. Phoenix also fancies itself as a more upscale tailgate experience, a perfect aesthetic to enjoy the second cheapest wine in the league to go along with the ninth-best price for beer.
The Cards actually play in suburban Glendale, where renting will cost you $978 monthly on average for a one-bedroom apartment.
8. Arlington, TX (Dallas)
As they say, everything is bigger in Texas, which includes AT&T Stadium in Arlington, outside of Dallas. The stadium normally holds about 80,000 fans, but when fully loaded with temporary seating, it’s the largest venue in the NFL with a maximum capacity of more than 105,000. All those people, along with that “How ’bout them Cowboys” tradition, those Super Bowls of a generation or two ago and the world-famous cheerleaders, America’s Team also throws America’s Party.
The Cowboys offer 12,000 parking spots in 15 numbered lots at AT&T Stadium, plus another 12,000 across the street at the Rangers’ Globe Life Park. That’s a lot of room for tailgating which is an integral part of the game-day experience in a state known for barbecues and beef.
And that’s just what you’ll find on grills and smokers around “JerryWorld,” the stadium’s nickname honoring owner Jerry Jones, during pregame parties. As AT&T Stadium offers the NFL’s most expensive parking at around $75, Cowpoke fans can offset that price as they barbecue with the league’s second cheapest price for steak and the seventh most affordable for sausage.
To snag a spot to live in Arlington, be ready to cough up $961 a month for an average one-bedroom.
- Related article: The Cheapest Neighborhoods for Football Fans in America
6 (tie). New Orleans, LA
Football and parties go hand-in-hand and what better place is there to throw both tailgates and TD passes than New Orleans? A Saints game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a non-stop party filled with choruses of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” Drew Brees scrambles and Tom Benson-style golden parasols.
Regardless of the team’s fortunes on the field, Saints supporters have always been able to find a reason to celebrate. Fans suffered through two decades of “Ain’ts” football, finishing over .500 for the first time in their 20th season. Since then, they’ve been rewarded with a dozen playoff appearances and a victory in Super Bowl XLIV.
That party starts early in the day outside the Dome as partiers set up early, bringing a high-level tailgate game long before the game on the field. With its reputation as a foodie and beer-and-spirits aficionado haven, the tailgate scene in New Orleans does not disappoint.
In between rounds of daiquiris, hurricanes and Dixie beers, the Cajun and creole-tinged stadium food options are plentiful — and inexpensive. With the league’s second cheapest ground beef, seventh cheapest steak and the most affordable frying chicken in the entire NFL, the po’boys, jambalaya and gumbo flow freely across the Dome’s parking lots.
While a Saints Sunday matchup is one of the best places in town to laissez les bon temps rouler, New Orleans is also a magical place to live seven days a week. And for just $1,543 a month on average, you can set up shop in your very own one-bedroom apartment.
6 (tie). Denver, CO
If you know anything about beer, you know that Colorado is one of America’s great beer destinations. The state is a mecca for craft drinkers, with both Fort Collins and Boulder among the top 10 best cities in America for beer lovers and the third-most craft breweries per capita in the U.S.
And that love of beer grows exponentially on game day at Broncos Stadium. From the heydays of John Elway and Terrell Davis’s pair of Super Bowl titles up through Peyton Manning’s four Division championships and Super Bowl 50, Broncos fans have always made the parking lots at Mile High into an orange-and-blue brews-and-suds party zone.
While success on the field has eluded the Broncs since The Sheriff hung up his cleats for the second time, off the field, few fan bases know how to enjoy a cold mountain Sunday in a cold mountain parking lot better.
And it’s just that free-flowing availability of a variety of beer in Colorado that keeps costs down, with Denver coming in as the sixth most affordable city in the NFL for beer. And if your tastes run a bit higher to go along with your Rocky Mountain Oysters, the city is also the fourth-best value for wine in the league.
It’s no wonder Denver is nicknamed the “Napa Valley of beer” with all of that selection. And if you’re looking to catch games at Mile High and hit the slopes at Echo Mountain or Winter Park on the regular, Denver offers a one-bedroom rental at $1,829 monthly on average.
5. Green Bay, WI
Sure, Buffalo has lake-effect driven blizzards and Chicago has wind whipping off the Great Lakes, but there’s nowhere in the NFL even close to the Arctic game-time temperatures seen in Green Bay.
In fact, three of the eight coldest games ever played took place at the Packers’ home field. There’s a reason they call Lambeau Field the frozen tundra. While other cold-weather cities like Detroit and Minneapolis play under the warm lights of domed stadiums, robust Green Bay residents brave those temps both inside the stadium and out.
So, what fuels the internal heaters of Packers fans as they tailgate through the coldest temps in the league? A lot of hot food and smooth beer. While Wisconsinites surely love their brats and cheese curds, Lambeau tailgate grills run hot with an abundance of Wisconsin cheddar cheese-topped burgers.
And in this dairy and beef wonderland, ground beef is affordable enough for extra cheeseburgers to go ’round, the fourth most affordable city in the league. And don’t forget to break out the serving bowl and pile it high with the NFL’s most affordable potato chips.
Of course, Titletown is also one of America’s great beer towns. Shirtless cheesehead mill workers and faux fur-clad socialites alike know that the beer must flow freely before any Pack game, and the tiny town of Green Bay is the most affordable city in the NFL for beer (not to mention the sixth-best for wine). Just keep plenty of koozies in stock as beer will freeze at a balmy 29 degrees, right at the city’s average December high temperature.
The Packers are owned by those energetic residents themselves through 5 million shares of stock held by 360,000 fans. And while the Pack’s season ticket waitlist is 30 years long, you can get yourself a one-bedroom apartment right now, for an average monthly price of $918.
- Related article: The Best Football Cities for Renters
4. Jacksonville, FL
Among tourist spots like Miami, Tampa, Daytona, Orlando and the Panhandle, the Florida city of Jacksonville is both overlooked and underappreciated. But the multifaceted locale is a gem of the NFL, a coastal city part Sunshine State and part Deep South. And in fact, Jacksonville is the largest city in the United States, at 750,000 square miles.
The NFL certainly saw the potential of Jacksonville on the national stage in 1993 when it chose the city for expansion. The population was exploding as one of the fastest-growing cities on the East Coast, tourism was booming and the league was adding another southern city to its Super Bowl host city roster, bringing Super Bowl XXXIX to town in 2005.
And any warm-weather football city is destined to become a sanctuary for great tailgates, and Jacksonville found its footing quickly. Entrees served at Jaguars’ parking lot tailgates in the Florida sun is eclectic, equal parts soul food, Floribbean and surf-and-turf. The selections on the grills and hotplates are equally as varied thanks in part to the across-the-board affordability of protein choices. Prices in Jacksonville for steak, ground beef, sausage and chicken are all among the cheapest in the league.
Despite its enormous physical size, Jacksonville is still the fourth-smallest metro area in the NFL. That leaves a lot of room for all the residents. For $1,000 a month, you can grab an average one-bedroom apartment in the wide-open spaces.
3. Indianapolis, IN
The surprise retirement of Andrew Luck got you down, Colts fans? While the team sorts out its future on the field, take solace in the fact that Indianapolis is the third-most affordable city for tailgating.
The central and convenient location of Lucas Oil Stadium makes for a great pregame atmosphere. The stadium sits just across South Street from Mile Square, the heart of Indianapolis’ downtown. Sharing the neighborhood with the Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Indiana Convention Center (the former site of the Hoosier Dome), the Mile Square district features hotels, sports bars and chain restaurants aplenty to hit up before you make your way to your parking lot tailgate.
A recent history of winning – thanks to Luck and Peyton Manning – has helped the Colts’ fanbase thrive, and that’s reflected each Sunday in The Luke’s parking lots. While most of the partying is done away from the stadium, tailgates in Indy are hopping.
Plenty of fans chowing down on pork tenderloin, Indy’s signature sandwich, can be found, along with a few overflowing plates of open-faced roast beef Manhattan. And while the price of beer in Indianapolis is just average, the city is tops for the most affordable wine in the NFL. So, if you’re looking to fancy up your tailgate, grab yourself a bottle of Chablis or Chenin Blanc.
Sadly, Andrew Luck’s place won’t be available as he’s sticking around to live in Indianapolis. But you can get a one-bedroom unit for an average of $966 a month in Naptown.
- Related article: The Best Cities for Meat Lovers in America
2. Detroit, MI
OK, so let’s be honest. It’s been nearly 30 years since the Detroit Lions have won a playoff game. And not only has the team never appeared in a Super Bowl, but it’s also been six decades since they have even played in a title game, winning the 1957 NFL Championship.
And yes, they were the first team to go 0-16. But Lions fans are a resilient crew, still nearly selling out most games at beautiful Ford Field, ranked among the “Best Stadiums in the NFL” by The Big Lead.
Even the most diehard optimistic Lions fan could use a good pregame meal and drinks with uncertainty as soon as they pass through the turnstiles. That’s why Ford Field tailgates are among the best in the league. But unlike the old sprawling Silverdome in suburban Pontiac, Ford Field has limited space in the parking lots which has led to a community of tailgaters at private lots nearby. But none are more popular than those in Eastern Market, just across Chrysler Freeway from the stadium.
Just a 10-minute walk from the game, Eastern Market offers a spot to tailgate with fellow Cardiac Cat fans full of food vendors, live bands, a $5 shuttle to the stadium and — we can’t stress this enough — real bathrooms rather than porta-potties. But be ready to pay because while it’s just 10 bucks to park, it’s $40 for a tailgating pass.
However, the cost of tailgating is offset by a ton of inexpensive tailgate eats. While Detroit-style square pizza and coney dogs are pervasive, the meat selection is widespread and affordable, in the top 10 cheapest for steak, sausage and chicken of any city in the league.
And the drinks are also quite reasonable and free-flowing, as the third cheapest beer of any city in the NFL, fifth-lowest-priced wine and third most affordable Coke.
Now that the Lions play downtown rather than a stunning 30 miles to the north in Pontiac, commuting to the game is much easier for those that live in the city. You, too, can lease an average one-bedroom for $1,288 a month.
1. Houston, TX
For those in the know, it’s no surprise that Texans games at NRG Stadium are among the best places in the NFL to tailgate. Houston has been named a top 10 in the league for tailgating by sources as diverse as Fox News, Insider, SeatGeek, Trips to Discover, Daily Meal and Bleacher Report. In Houston, tailgating is a culture and an industry unto itself. Here, fans don’t just tailgate before the game, but after, as well.
Texans fans arrive early and in huge numbers, often spending hundreds and thousands of dollars to compete to win the distinguished Tailgater of the Game and Tailgater of the Year awards. The team offers stadium parking lot tailgate packages that include early access to the lot and a reserved space for groups up to 25 people.
And if you want to just come and enjoy the revelry without setting up your own party, groups like the Liberty Tailgaters and the Raging Bull Tailgaters offer organized bashes you can join outside the NRG Stadium for a flat fee.
Don’t have a ticket for the game? No problem. For just $12, you can tag along with a carload of game-bound friends to party in the parking lot without even seeing the game.
Being Texas, the giant tailgates permeate the parking lot with the smell of meat on the grill. The scent of sausages, ribs, briskets and steaks waft from every corner. So Texans fans can celebrate being named the No. 1 most affordable city in the NFL for tailgating. In Houston, you can procure the cheapest sausages of any NFL city, as well as sitting among the top five most affordable for steak, ground beef and chicken.
While the Texans are the league’s newest franchise, the city of Houston has been home to NFL football for more than 40 seasons, dating back to the Oilers joining in 1960 before taking off for Nashville in 1996.
To live it up in this historic NFL town and party at the league’s best tailgates, find a one-bedroom apartment in town which leases for $1,181 monthly on average.
The full standings
Below are the full rankings for all 32 teams in 30 NFL cities. While affordable Midwest and Southern towns place very high on the list, large coastal cities like D.C., Seattle, Philadelphia and the Bay Area, with elevated costs of living, greater distance from agriculture and farming regions and more complex food distribution networks, drop to the bottom.
|Rank||City||State||Team||Steak||Ground beef||Sausage||Chicken||Potato chips||Coca-Cola||Beer||Wine||Tailgating Score|
|18||Los Angeles||CA||Chargers / Rams||18||8||24||25||11||22||22||3||16.625|
|19||East Rutherford||NJ||Giants / Jets||13||15||22||27||20||19||12||17||18.125|
Average prices for tailgating come from the Council for Community and Economic Research‘s Q2 2019 Cost of Living report. We used the following specifications from the C2ER for our calculations:
- Steak: Price per pound, rib-eye cut steak
- Ground beef: Price per pound, lowest price, min 80%
- Sausage: Price per pound, Jimmy Dean or Owens brand, 100% pork
- Chicken: Price per pound
- Potato chips: 10 oz. plain regular potato chips
- Coca-Cola: 2-liter, excluding any deposit
- Beer: Heineken’s, 6-pack, 12-oz. containers, excluding any deposit
- Wine: 1.5-liter bottle, Chablis or Chenin Blanc or any white table wine
We ranked each NFL city by C2ER urban area in terms of affordability for tailgating, with the cheapest being 1 and the most expensive as 30. We then added the total rankings and divided by eight to determine a final tailgating score. The cities with the lowest tailgating score were determined to be the most affordable.
The rent information included in this article is based on September 2019 multifamily rental property inventory on Apartment Guide and Rent.com and is used for illustrative purposes only. Cities without rental prices indicate insufficient rental data in our inventory. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.