The Lot of the Working-Class NFL Fan
'America's Parking Lot'
Around the world, state-of-the-art sporting arenas are being built, replacing treasured stadiums and displacing working-class fans who can no longer afford ticket prices. Austin filmmaker Jonny Mars documents that painful shift in America's Parking Lot, chronicling the ups and (mainly) downs of Tiger and Cy, leaders of the devoted Gate 6 Tailgaters, as they move from their beloved spot outside of Texas Stadium to the billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium. The economics of this new era of high-dollar stadiums is destined to forever change the landscape of the fan experience for generations to come. Will blue-collar fans be pushed out of the stadium parking lot and in front of their HD TVs? Mars shares his thoughts with the Chronicle.
Austin Chronicle: What inspired you to spend five years of your life on this project?
Jonny Mars: Man, that's the million-dollar question. Well, first off, I think ignorance has a big part to do with it. [laughs] I don't know that I really understood that it was going to take five years at the onset, but I knew that ... I'm into subcultures, I love documentaries, I knew these were some people I had never seen before onscreen.
AC: Tiger and Cy, the Gate 6 Tailgaters?
JM: Not just the Gate 6 Tailgaters, but the way life existed outside of Texas Stadium. I had never really seen that before at other NFL stadiums. First and foremost, it was interesting, this life that existed outside of Texas Stadium, but then on top of that, the Gate 6 Tailgaters, that to the nth degree, you know, that interesting element times 10. To me, Cy and Tiger are great characters. Those guys exist in a way, on some level, I'm jealous of. They are honest about who they are and what they want to do and they celebrate it 10 times a year in that parking lot. And I felt like, you know, it was worth documenting, but I also knew that it was going away. So there was kind of like this urgent need to document it. To be a part of history in that way, to lend the lens to history, if you will. ...
AC: It seems like such a pure and sincere kind of love.
JM: Absolutely. And when you multiply that times 20 years with the same people, you begin to develop these familial bonds, you know. And you begin to have a love that you share amongst these people and these friends and literal family members when you have this celebration so many times a year for 20 years. I knew it was going away and that is inherent conflict. So once you cut off access to that thing they love, I was really curious to see how they would respond and react to it. So in a lot of ways it's kind of just set up as a science experiment – a hypothesis of what might happen – and I needed to film how the organism was going to react once its food was taken away. Once that thing that makes it live was taken from it, how was it going to respond?
AC: So what do you think the fate of the blue-collar NFL fan is? Are they going to move to tailgating at home? Maybe go to one game a year ....
JM: That's a great question for lots of reasons. I'm a fan of sports. I enjoy going to events. I enjoy people rooting for the same team. But it's just too freakin' expensive for me as an individual. ... [T]imes are tough, the middle class is getting squeezed out, and this is the concomitant of that. Gas is almost $5 a gallon. Bread is almost two bucks, three bucks a loaf. At some point, people just won't be able to afford to go. It's free on television and on the radio. As [Chris] Berman says, generations of fans can't take part in the live sporting event. Why would they ever miss it? They are just not going to go if you can't afford to take your kids. It's going to die with this generation. And if it's just a corporate event, it's not going to be the same anyway.
For a longer version of this Q&A, visit the Screens blog.
America's Parking Lot, Documentary Spotlight, Saturday, March 17, 11am, Alamo Lamar