published Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Managers look at concerts as a way to maximize use of Finley Stadium


by Cliff Hightower
Finley Stadium is located at 1826 Carter St. in downtown Chattanooga. The managers of Finley Stadium are interested in hosting large entertainment acts, such as concerts, at the site.
Finley Stadium is located at 1826 Carter St. in downtown Chattanooga. The managers of Finley Stadium are interested in hosting large entertainment acts, such as concerts, at the site.
Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse.

FINLEY FACTS


• Date opened: Oct. 18, 1997

• Seating capacity: 20,668

• Cost of facility: $28.5 million

• Named after: W. Max Finley, a chairman of the Rock-Tenn Corp.

• Number of skyboxes: 32

Source: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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With 20,000 seats, Finley Stadium is the biggest seating facility in Southeast Tennessee.

Now the corporation that runs the stadium wants to see more than just fans of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs filling the seats. It wants to see concertgoers, as well.

"What we think is a real possibility is a major concert," said Merrill Eckstein, executive director for the Stadium Corp., the company that manages Finley.

The stadium opened in 1997 and seats 20,668 people, but Eckstein said he sees even more than that if concerts with seats on the field are counted.

"You can probably bump that up to 25,000 with the field," he said.

Concerts have been held at Finley. Singer Michael Bolton played the stadium in 1999 and Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd came in 2003, newspaper archives show.

Stadium Corp. officials arrived at the concert idea months ago while visiting Frisco, Texas. For years, Finley Stadium hosted the NCAA Division I Championship game, but the game moved to Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, just outside Dallas.

Pizza Hut Park is home to the FC Dallas soccer club but a permanent stage has been built on one end of the field.

Eckstein said Pizza Hut Park officials consider it not just a stadium, but an entertainment venue. He said he can see the same thing happening at Finley.

But it still could be risky, said David Johnson, the city's facilities manager at Memorial Auditorium. Having an outdoor concert always poses potential problems because of weather, Johnson said. And bigger concerts to play the stadium mean bigger payouts to the performers and bigger risks if the seats aren't filled.

"You just don't know," he said. "When you're 200 tickets short, you have to make that up," but in the case of Finley Stadium, it could mean thousands of empty seats.

Most concert venues of Finley's size have a "war chest" of money on hand just in case things go south and ticket sales don't cover costs.

The fact that Finley would be competing for concerts with other Chattanooga venues is another problem, Johnson said.

Eckstein said he did not see Finley as a competitor for other venues. Each facility has its own capacity and Finley is bigger than any other venue so it would be going after the large acts, attracting crowds the other venues couldn't accommodate.

Johnson said it wouldn't be the same acts that Finley would compete for but it might be an act in the same genre. If Memorial booked a country act, then two weeks later Finley had a country act, the two shows might compete with each other for ticket sales. And he expects concertgoers would want to go to Finley because its act would be a bigger name.

"They wouldn't want to come here," Johnson said.

Eckstein said he plans to talk with Johnson and Adam Kinsey, co-owner of Track 29 at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. He said the success of the recently opened Track 29, which can hold about 1,700 for concerts, proves that popular music acts can work here

Kinsey could not be reached for comment.

Eckstein admitted Stadium Corp. can't afford to be the risk-taker and said the organization would need to talk to a promoter willing to take a risk.

But he said he thinks the risk would be worth it.

"I firmly believe the right act would sell out quickly," he said.

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