By Sara Hoover
Legions of football fans look forward to fall and the beginning of their favorite
team’s season. The Blue and Gray faithful are no different as they support the Tigers,
especially at home games at Liberty Bowl Stadium. Tradition dictates that to have
a true football fan experience, one should arrive hours early and enjoy tailgating:
camaraderie, burgers and beverages.
With “green” being the word of the day, a group in the U of M’s health and sport sciences
department began a research project to find out to what extent tailgaters were recycling,
and where the plastic bottles and other recyclable items wound up after games. The
goal of the study was to change the knowledge and behavior of tailgaters in regards
to recycling activities.
It started in fall 2008 with a brainstorming session that included health and sport
sciences, the Ecological Resource Center and the biology department.
“It originally had its antecedents in what might we do to enhance the environmental
experience for what’s happening at Shelby Farms,” said Dr. Nate Martin, assistant
professor of health and sport sciences in the College of Education. “From there, (we
figured out) how we can focus it in terms of the sport industry and the environment.
We developed this concept around enhancing recycling at tailgating events.”
Preliminary data was collected at several football games. Eighty-four percent of tailgaters
for Memphis games at the Liberty Bowl felt there was a lack of recycling during tailgating.
“We knew game-day recycling was a great baseline because there was nothing other than
self-initiated efforts that existed,” said Dr. Richard Irwin, professor of health
and sport sciences. “There might be a bag over here or there, but there was nothing
proactive in terms of the Liberty Bowl or any of its tenants.”
The North American Society for Sport Management awarded the team of Martin, Irwin
and Dr. Sally Ross, assistant professor of health and sport sciences, a grant to support
the intervention study that was implemented last fall.
The study consisted of U of M students and student-athletes who educated tailgaters
about recycling benefits. Tailgaters signed commitment cards and received stickers
to remind them to recycle. Recycling bins were placed throughout the tailgating areas,
and the amount of recycling was weighed after four games to determine if there was
any impact from the education effort. Students also returned for a follow-up visit
to see how tailgaters were doing with their pledge to recycle.
Approximately 30 students received a day of training to prepare them for their task
of educating tailgaters about the benefits of recycling.
The students included sport and leisure management majors and members of the Environmental
Action Club, a “green” student organization at the U of M. Student-athletes from men’s
soccer, women’s basketball, women’s tennis and other sports also took part in the
“There is research that suggests you can change somebody’s values, thoughts and knowledge
and it doesn’t ever translate to actual action,” said Martin. “So we did a lot of
things with the stickers, T-shirts, commitment cards, all of these socially-based
marketing tools to get them to actually do that.”
Students wore T-shirts that read, “We can talk trash,” as a cue to bring up recycling.
The back of the shirts listed recycling benefits and facts.
Students wear “We can talk trash” shirts to engage tailgaters in the benefits of recycling.
(photo courtesy of Sally Ross)
Sport and leisure management major Guy Hudson said the day at the Liberty Bowl consisted
of a well-orchestrated educational effort.
“We split into groups of about four or five people,” said the senior from Boston.
“One person was in charge of starting the conversation and giving people the general
idea of what we were doing. The second person talked about recycling and how in previous
years people weren’t recycling much. The third person gave out and explained the survey.
The last person collected the surveys, gave them a sticker and talked about a chance
to win a T-shirt.”
Student Chris James, a sport and leisure management major, got to see a range of behaviors
from the tailgaters.
“It really did open my eyes as to how unaware people were about the recycling project,”
said the senior. “I learned that some people are really just lazy about recycling.”
The intervention study was a learning opportunity for the students as well. Pre- and
post-tests revealed that all students’ behavior, knowledge and values about recycling
changed for the better.
“It bears itself out for students to see the implication of theory and that they’re
actually a part of it,” said Irwin. “They were a part of the action team as opposed
to us telling them. It’s action learning as much as it’s action research.”
Collaborators included the U of M’s life skills program, the City of Memphis and the
Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Memphis, which donated the recycling bins.
When the students returned for a follow-up, they saw improvements.
“We went back to another game to see if they were still recycling, if they took our
advice,” said Hudson. “We noticed definitely that people started to recycle more because
we had the bins all around the parking lot area and we were checking those. A lot
of people remembered us. We had a lot of friends, people who felt comfortable talking
to us. People really did take our advice the first time around.”
With the opening of the new Tiger Lane at the Liberty Bowl this fall, the team hopes
they’ve made an impact.
“That was our dream – that we would have a favorable impact,” said Irwin.
The student volunteers who helped educate tailgaters at the Liberty Bowl on the benefits
of recycling included sport and leisure management majors and student-athletes. (photo
courtesy of Sally Ross)
The most surprising result from the study was the behavior did not necessarily transfer
to home or other aspects of a tailgater’s life.
“Our data suggested their behavior while tailgating did change, but their behavior
at home remained the same,” said Martin. “This intervention was very location or situational
specific. When somebody goes to travel or when in somebody else’s home, they’re going
to behave differently.”
The study can serve as a model for other organizations that may want to put a similar
recycling initiative in place.
Whether or not the findings will be duplicated remains to be seen; however the study
benefited not only the environment and tailgaters, but also students.
“It just really opened my eyes to a lot of different things, like how much more useful
and effective I can be when it comes to recycling efforts,” added James, whose team
signed up 100 tailgaters. “When the new University Center opened, it made me happy
because there were recycling bins everywhere. The project really made me appreciate