The Fraternity Lot, an organized and iconic tailgating event at USC, is a popular, essential part of many students’ game day plans.
Every home football game, 14 fraternities gather to set up stages, tents and large speakers on Shop Road in a fenced-in dirt lot near the football stadium, where hours of booming music and a celebratory atmosphere hype up partygoers ahead of the game.
In the years since the start of the frat lot, the event has grown rapidly, securing itself as a pillar of student tailgating life. Currently, the event brings out thousands of South Carolina students, including anyone with a ticket. To get in, attendees must be 18 or older and have a wristband; men must be given a wristband through a frat connection, and women can purchase wristbands online.
“Kids come to this school for the Fraternity Lot,” Alex Waelde, head administrator of the Fraternity Lot, said.
Waelde, a USC alumnus, originally organized multiple fraternities to tailgate on a single lot in 2016.
USC fraternities held these large-scale tailgate-type events in the past, with no previous ticketing systems or infrastructure. But Waelde said with the official Fraternity Lot event, formerly separate Interfraternity Council members have been brought together.
“I was able to unify the majority of Greek life together, put them on one lot,” Waelde said. “It's helped the community health, as well, because now there's a lot of people that actually do stuff together because of the Fraternity Lot.”
Anderson Reese, a third-year political science student and Phi Gamma Delta social chair, said the frat lot provides a consistent opportunity for people to come together and show support for the school, regardless of what might be going on during game day.
The event has even continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. After a cease in operations in fall 2020, the frat lot started back up in spring 2021 and currently has no vaccination requirements for its attendees.
Fourth-year chemical engineering student Brianna Defrank has been going to the frat lot since her freshman year. She said she enjoys the social aspect of the tailgate.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone to get together, all my friends; it’s the one time we all have to see each other. And it’s a nice way, after finishing classes for the week, to let all that stress go and enjoy the time here,” Defrank said.
Pi Kappa Phi social chair and fourth-year marketing and event management student Michael Eulner said the frat lot is the fundamental social event of USC, while Reese says the event contributes to the hype around school spirit.
"Pretty much everyone's week, socially, revolves around the frat lot, which is a big indicator that it's probably one of the highlights of most people's college experience here," Eulner said about his fraternity community.
Despite the established popularity, the event does not have an perfect reputation.
The prevalence of underage drinking has often led to increased police activity and even hospitalizations of attendees from dehydration or alcohol poisoning, according to Waelde.
Changes have been put in place to address these safety concerns, with pushback from attendees. Outside alcoholic drinks are not allowed in, and hard liquor is banned from the property.
Waelde, having witnessed other tailgates shut down over the years, said he felt the tradeoff for an event without increased safety restrictions would be no tailgate tradition at all.
“It wasn't a popular decision, but by doing it, again, it preserved the operation of the lot. You know what I always say is like, 'Would you rather have a tailgate lot with no liquor, or nothing?” Waelde said.
The lot has brought in a third-party vendor to serve drinks at a central bar after checking IDs using forensic scanners.
With some increased safety measures in place, the frat lot has maintained its role as a tailgating staple, and it remains a popular student event for the 2021 football season. Waelde said he expects the cultural influence of the tailgate event to carry forward, hopefully, for years to come.
“We are always trying our best to balance fun, safety and compromise when it comes to tailgate, so, you know, we want the frat lot to be open for 10 more years, not 10 more months," Waelde said.