By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
With rain steadily falling and temperatures in the 50s, the parking lot outside Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers, on a Thursday night earlier this season, was downright inhospitable.
Except, that is, for a tiny patch near Section D-6, just under the interstate.
There, the glow from a 70-inch television screen served as a beacon. A disk jockey’s sound board played endless hits, including “Young Hearts Run Free” by Candi Staton and “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band. A small group of guests bonded over beers, burgers, soft pretzels and other fare.
Hosting the party were Jacqueline McDevitt and Colleen O’Hara, not necessarily because they are irrepressible Flyers fans, but because they are new entrepreneurs in a male-dominated field, committed to making a name for themselves.
The women own Phan Cave, a tailgating service joining one of the fastest-growing industries in the sports sector of a metropolitan area considered to be one of the most enthusiastic when it comes to parking lot grilling, keg tapping and cornhole tossing.
“Getting us to be a household name and be in the mix is our goal,” McDevitt said.
They’ve gotten some serious exposure already. In late September, Phan Cave won the inaugural National Association of Women Business Owners Pennsylvania Business Plan Competition, presented by the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.
They picked up a $10,000 cash prize and impressed the likes of Lori Greiner, a Chicago-based inventor, infomercial impresario and judge on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
“Lori Greiner says our idea, our concept was so ‘Shark Tank,'” McDevitt gushed in an interview about a month later. “It was so amazing.”
Phan Cave’s founders, both college lacrosse standouts, McDevitt, 31, at Long Island University, and O’Hara, 33, at Pennsylvania State University, initially had a different sports-related business in mind: a women’s sporting-goods store. They nixed that plan when they realized the expenses associated with licensing and a bricks-and-mortar operation.
What they held on to, however, was a domain name, bought in 2011: phancave.com. Thoughts of fans and what they like to do led to the idea of a tailgating business.
Their first job was a bachelorette party in June at a Phillies game, a relatively bare-bones affair with tents, tables and grills. It was a success, prompting them to buy a custom-built, 30-foot tailgating trailer.
Besides the 70-inch television, it has kitchen facilities and two bathrooms. Two 60-inch TVs soon will be added, one on each end, along with a Phillycentric wrap. Fake turf, tents, chairs, tables and games are part of the package, as are the music, food and drink. (Price depends on factors such as the size of the party and the menu.)
McDevitt, a former college lacrosse coach, and O’Hara, who has an MBA and works full time in sales at a provider of college athletic-recruiting software, traded in their cars for a Ford F-150 capable of hauling the trailer.
Their personal investment to date is about $50,000. Among those considering that money well-spent is Michael Kean, director of business development for Charlotte, N.C.-based Inside Tailgating, a magazine and website (www.
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insidetailgating.com) devoted to aficionados’ interests, such as gear, recipes and games.
“There’s a lot of opportunity, for sure,” Kean said. “People are doing it more and more for just about any big event.”
Tailgating has gained popularity, especially in the corporate world, he said, because of “the community aspect of it. We’ve lost so much with the advancement of technology with regards to face-to-face interaction. I’ve heard it described as the last bastion where people kind of hang out together.”
In the business plan competition, Phan Cave said it expected to generate $47,880 in its first 12 months, and $64,000 within two years, with the addition of a second trailer. It also cited Tailgating Industry Association estimates that tailgaters spent about $35 billion on food and beverage in 2013.
“Our market is not diehard Eagles fans who have been doing this for 30 years,” McDevitt said. “Our market is corporate. So when companies want to show some love to their employees or close deals in a less formal environment or boost morale, there’s an opportunity to give them a tailgate.”
Flyers season-ticket holder Bear Betzler of Philadelphia loved the idea when he wandered over to check out the Phan Cave before the game.
“This is the sort of set-up most people would dream of having but couldn’t afford,” Betzler said.
Another advantage over the standard do-it-yourself tailgate, he added: “Somebody else does all the work.”