The party rocks while the All Conference Coach rolls
Iowa Hawkeye supporter sets new standards for pre-game tailgating
By Glenn Swain
Last fall before the annual Iowa-Iowa State football game, long-time Hawkeye supporter Bill Rieckhoff came up with an idea for a better tailgate party. He envisioned two large specialty motorcoaches each with extravagant amenities and painted in the school colors of the rival teams. He would park them side by side outside the Iowa University’s Kennick Stadium and entertain partying football fans.
“What if we took grandma’s living room and transformed it into the motorized fan cave,” Rieckhoff says. “That idea grew on me throughout the football season.”
One year later Rieckhoff launched his fledgling company, Varsity Coach of Cedar Rapids, to build custom-made specialty tailgating motorcoaches. Today, Varsity Coach is garnering a reputation in the motorcoach industry and on major university campuses. Having spent the last 20 years as a supplier to Winnebago Industries, Forest City, IA, Rieckhoff approached the company about manufacturing the 40-foot coach he envisioned as the mother of all tailgating vehicles. Winnebego jumped on board to custom build the $425,000 motorcoach Rieckhoff dubbed the Varsity All-Conference. It features custom interiors and amenities fit into a Winnebago shell on a Freightliner chassis. The powertrain is a 400-horsepower, turbo-charged Cummins diesel engine coupled to an Allison transmission. Rieckhoff says his company can custom build the Varsity All Conference and have it ready for delivery in 20 to 24 weeks.
Rieckhoff contracted with Interior Source/Cambrian Granite of Cedar Falls to handle all of the custom interior work to include seating, plush cabinetry and flooring.
“Before this we had never worked on motorcoaches,” says Interior President and co-founder Marc Schweer. “For us this was a unique and exciting assignment.”
The finished product is a sportsman’s dream. The motorcoach features ten flat screen televisions – five inside and five outside the vehicle – multiple beer taps, an outdoor beverage center and the gigantic, stainless steel Varsity Training Table food serving area.
In August, Varsity Motor Coach found another customer: ESPNU, a property of ESPN that reports on college football lifestyle issues.
This fall ESPNU is including a Varsity All Conference coach on the ESPNU Road Trip. It follows the ESPN College Football GameDay bus and crew. Rieckhoff says he hopes in the near future to also provide the GameDay coach.
“For a start-up company, to get that was amazing,” Rieckhoff says of his deal with ESPNU.
Bill Young, the head of Winnebago’s commercial and specialty vehicles division, says a 42-foot motorcoach is in the works. Although he doesn’t see the company building specialty tailgating vehicles on a production line, more work with Rieckhoff is in the offing.
“Anyone who walks into the Varsity All-Conference is going to realize it’s for tailgating and not camping,” Young says.
Simply getting permission to paint the motorcoach in Iowa’s black and old gold colors and use the school’s tiger hawk logo was a job all its own. Rieckhoff has to go through the College Licensing Company, who handles marketing merchandise for most colleges in the U.S.
Currently, Rieckhoff is negotiating to get permission to produce motorcoaches sporting the team colors and logos of such powerhouse football schools as Texas, Michigan and Penn State.
Rieckhoff says his company has identified 24 schools it hopes to license with by next year.
Meantime, Iowa University officials have been more than happy to see the exceptional shiny motorcoach parked beside Kinnick Stadium during this football season.
“This coach seems to create an amazing sense of pride in the team,” Rieckhoff says. “It really becomes a rolling billboard for the university and probably encourages people to buy more licensed merchandise.”
In mid-September, Rieckhoff was on the road with the ESPNU crew during visits to Tuscaloosa, AL for the Alabama – Penn State game and a week later in Austin, TX for the Texas – Texas Tech contest. Before the Alabama game Rieckhoff says more than 30 people were crammed on the ESPNU bus partying before kickoff.
“The ESPN folks are delighted with the motorcoach,” he says.
While in Tuscaloosa and Austin, Rieckhoff was drumming up more business with fans of both schools.
“I’m trying to work customers as much as I can,” he says. “I had a meeting in Austin with some people to show them the ESPNU coach, and they were really excited and pleased with the product. They’re considering having one done in the full Texas colors and gear. I’m picturing the burnt orange Longhorns logo on the side of the coach now.” BR