published Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Sporting events bring money to area

Members of the Sarasota Rowing Club race down the Tennessee River during the Head of the Hooch head race in Chattanooga. Thousands of people come from all over the world to watch and participate in the 5,000 meter annual event.
Members of the Sarasota Rowing Club race down the Tennessee River during the Head of the Hooch head race in Chattanooga. Thousands of people come from all over the world to watch and participate in the 5,000 meter annual event.
Photo by Alex Washburn.

THE MONEY MAKERS

The top five sporting events in terms of economic impact that were held in Chattanooga in 2011:

1. Head of the Hooch rowing regatta $4.80 million

2. ASA 16-Under Girls' Fastpitch $3.00 million

3. NSA Class 'A' Fastpitch Word Series $2.48 million

4. Athletic Championships Cheerleading $2.42 million

5. SoCon basketball tournaments $1.30 million

Source: Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee

Sporting events brought a record economic impact to Chattanooga in 2011, but one of the marquee matchups this city hosted for more than a decade could continue to stay away.

Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee president Scott Smith said Wednesday that athletic competitions brought in $26.5 million last year, eclipsing the previous high of $25.1 million in 2009. The Head of the Hooch rowing regatta in November led the way with a $4.8 million economic impact, followed by the ASA 16-under girls' fastpitch national tournament ($3.0 million) in August and the NSA Class "A" girls' fastpitch World Series ($2.48 million) in July.

"When you saw that we were going to have both ASA and NSA softball back last year, you knew you had a chance at a record year because those are such huge events," Smith said. "But if you take out all those events that brought in $175,000 or $200,000, you wouldn't even be close. The big ones get the attention, but it's the consistent 'We're here every year' kind of events that are the backbone."

The top five events, which included January's Athletic Championships Cheerleading ($2.42 million) and March's Southern Conference basketball tournaments ($1.3 million), comprised roughly $14 million, or 53 percent of the total. According to the Sports Committee, there were 90 events last year that provided an economic impact of at least $5,000.

"Sports continue to play a vital role in our economy, and these events draw large numbers of visitors to our city each year," Sports Committee board chairman Rick Thompson said. "These amazing events get us closer to our vision of making the Chattanooga area known as the Southeast's premier destination for successful athletic events."

One event no longer in Chattanooga, the Football Championship Subdivision title game, took place in the Dallas suburb of Frisco last Saturday and drew a sold-out crowd of 20,586 with Sam Houston State and North Dakota State. That was the second straight year Frisco played host after Finley Stadium housed it from 1997 to 2009.

Frisco is scheduled to host the FCS game again in January 2013.

"We renewed our contract many, many times without it going for bid," Smith said. "Over that 13-year run, we only had to bid twice, even though we had two- or three-year contracts. Based on that, unless one party is just completely unhappy, I would anticipate that it won't come up for bid and that they will roll it into another two- or three-year deal.

"We don't know this for a fact, but we offered $300,000 last time and probably got blown out of the water, and it's really not worth $300,000 if you compare it to other events and what you put in and the economic return."

The Sports Committee led the bidding efforts for the FCS title game and the SoCon basketball tournaments, but Smith credits area softball officials for landing their national tournaments. The Head of the Hooch and the Athletics Championship Cheerleading events were attained by the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau, which oversees the Sports Committee.

Those events require hotel blocks, and Smith said that is handled by the Sports Committee.

The ASA and NSA softball tournaments held in Chattanooga last summer are not on the docket for 2012. The SoCon basketball events have moved to Asheville, N.C., so three of last year's top five money makers are elsewhere this time around.

"It definitely will not be a record year or even approach a record year because you don't have the ASA or NSA numbers, but the cheerleading and the Hooch are back," Smith said. "We've added some AAU baseball and softball super regionals, but it will probably wind up somewhere in the $17 million ballpark, which is very, very solid. You're not going to hit $20 million or above without one of those big softball tournaments.

"These things are cyclical, and if $17 million is the bottom, then we're doing very, very well."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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