Mother Nature is aiding Finley Stadium in a way the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team couldn't.
The mild winter has caused a sizable reduction in Finley's utility costs, which has given Stadium Corp. board members optimism for a balanced budget despite the loss of $60,000 that had been provided by the city each of the previous four fiscal years. The cut in expenses also follows a UTC season that began with hopes of a first playoff appearance since 1984 but ended with a 5-6 record.
According to Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein, the Stadium Corp. has $38,000 more in surplus compared to this time last year.
"Kudos to Merrill Eckstein and kudos to the weather gods for helping us out," Stadium Corp. chairman Bryan Patten said after Tuesday's meeting.
UTC's average home attendance this past season was 10,436, which was the lowest in coach Russ Huesman's three seasons and well off the record 12,699 average in 2010. Concessions revenue is off roughly $8,500 from this time last year, but the savings in gas and electric costs is more than $15,000.
Maintenance expenses are nearly $30,000 less than they were last winter, when close to $20,000 had to be spent on burst pipes due to the cold.
The Stadium Corp. still needs to trim another $22,000 compared to last year's budget to make up the difference for the amount the city once provided. That should occur, barring the unexpected, since a $27,000 final payment this past May on concessions equipment is not an expense this time around.
Eckstein projected revenues and expenses in excess of $700,000 for this fiscal year, but he expects those numbers to be much closer to $600,000. Last year, the Stadium Corp. had $726,326 in revenue and a surplus of $19,900.
"It's shaping up to be a stable, solid year," board member Gordon Davenport said. "It's the kiss of death to start talking that way, but no drama is good."
Said Rickie Pierce: "In light of losing $60,000, I think this is very commendable."
Stadium Corp. members also expressed a desire to establish Finley, a 20,668-seat facility built in 1997, as a better-late-than-never entertainment venue. Patten traveled to Frisco, Texas, in December to visit Pizza Hut Park, which not only houses professional soccer and the Football Championship Subdivision title game but has been configured to seat as many as 32,500 for acts such as Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Jimmy Buffett.
Pizza Hut Park has a sales staff of 40 that Finley Stadium obviously couldn't match, but Patten and Eckstein said Frisco officials have been happy to provide guidance.
"The only thing that hasn't been accomplished here are major concerts," Eckstein said. "We need an act so powerful that people in Atlanta, Knoxville, Nashville and Birmingham would come."
Eckstein has 206 events scheduled so far on Finley's 2012 calendar, which includes five UTC football games as well as the Baylor-McCallie and Brainerd-Tyner high school matchups. No high school program will regularly be calling Finley home as East Hamilton did in 2010 and Ringgold did last season.