In Any Event 

It’s football time in Tennessee … and it still matters

Tennessee football gets started in late September, and event planners still need to work around it – or perhaps work with it during a pandemic.

While attendance will be limited to 25,000 people actually at Neyland Stadium, which usually holds 100,000-plus, fans will still plan their Saturdays around football. Keep reading for four tips on how to reach those fans and benefit your nonprofit.

The Vols will play an SEC-only schedule with five games at home and five on the road in 2020. All of the games are listed on EventCheck Knox, and kickoff times are added as soon as Tennessee releases them.

The season opener is Sept. 26, the open date is Oct. 31, and the regular season finale is Dec. 5 when Florida comes to Knoxville. As with everything events related, COVID-19 tossed a wrench in the football schedule this fall.

Scott Bird, Charley Sexton and Savanna Howie enjoy the perfect tailgate spot during a past UT football season. (Blue Streak photo)

The Vols start this season three weeks later than usual and will be on the road at South Carolina with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26. The first game in Knoxville will be the following Saturday, Oct. 3, with a start time of 12 p.m. against Missouri. Kickoff time also has been set for the Nov. 7 game at Arkansas with a 7:30 p.m. start. All times are Eastern for planning purposes.

An explanation of how TV times are picked and other tips was in this blog a year ago. The Cliffs Notes version is that CBS gets the first pick of what game it wants to broadcast at 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. That selection can be made weeks in advance or the week of the game and then other networks pick. Thus, kickoff times are announced at all points during the season.

The open date of Oct. 31 should make young trick-or-treaters cheer. When Tennessee plays on Halloween evening, a lot of homes are dark because fans are at the game – or maybe hiding inside to watch the game.

The EventCheck Knox calendar for this fall remains a slate of canceled or postponed events, along with virtual ones.

Planners have come up with online themes and also sent invitations telling people not to save the date – kudos to the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum for that one – and to please still support the nonprofits. Young-Williams Animal Center has shifted its annual “Cause for Paws” to a virtual format on Thursday, Oct. 8, with a noon start time instead of an evening event.

Fans will be able to attend games in 2020 but at 25 percent capacity, so be ready to spread out in Neyland Stadium (UT Athletics photo)

So, in this desperate onside kick of times, how can planners work with football this fall? In football terms, the team on offense has four downs to get a first down and keep moving the ball with the goal of scoring. Here are four ways to tie your fundraiser to football this season.

  1. Since gathering in person is a no-go, and no one really wants to Zoom in to an event on Saturdays after the work week, sell “tailgate” tickets. Find a food and beverage partner and offer picnic baskets or catered meals and drinks to be delivered on game day this season. Fans get a ready-made, no-fuss tailgate party at home this season, and your nonprofit raises money.


  1. In addition, put together a basket of donated items that would entice sports fans with gift cards, Tennessee memorabilia, future game ticket vouchers and other orange-and-white items. Everyone who buys a ticket for the “tailgate” is entered in a drawing for the basket.


  1. If you are holding an event virtually this fall or winter, offer a ticket package or skybox special for a Vols football game in 2021 in your silent or live auction. Projections are that we will be back to normal at some point in 2021, and people will want to sing “Rocky Top” all night long with 100,000 of their closest friends.


  1. Along those same lines, offer a full tailgate setup for next season as an auction item either at a Tennessee game or at the winning bidder’s house. Include a tent, comfortable chairs, large screen for outdoor viewing of the game, food and beverages.
In 2021, Neyland Stadium should look like this again.

In a nod to the infamous 1990 game in which Colorado beat Missouri because the officiating crew erroneously awarded a fifth down – it’s known as the Fifth Down Game – here’s an extra equally scandalous tip: Some people don’t watch football. Consider adding a few non-fan items in the giveaway basket such as fine wine and gift cards for books, movies and spa visits (when it’s safe, of course).

For the diehard Tennessee fans who are attending games in person this season, social distancing and other protocols, including the use of mobile tickets instead of printed ones, are in effect and can be read here.

A disclaimer should be added: None of us knows what next week or next month looks like with COVID-19. While the 2020 football schedule is set, games could get delayed due to a quarantine situation with either Tennessee or its opponent.

But all eyes are on football. Planners need to keep their eye on the ball, too, and score a win for your nonprofit.


Maria Cornelius, a writer/editor for Moxley Carmichael, populates the EventCheck Knox calendar. With the pending return of football, her equilibrium has been somewhat restored. Email her with any EventCheck Knox questions at [email protected].

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