SoCon wrestling will benefit city of Chattanooga

SoCon wrestling will benefit city of Chattanooga

February 28th, 2012 by Ward Gossett in Sports - College

Scott Smith is the president of Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee.

Photo by Valera Decker

Wrestling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is having an impact in the area far beyond wins and losses.

"They're making a name for themselves, and that is once again making wrestling and Chattanooga synonymous," said Scott Smith of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee.

The Mocs will host the Southern Conference wrestling tournament at McKenzie Arena this Saturday, two months after hosting their first Southern Scuffle. Quarterfinals begin at 10 a.m. and the championship finals will commence at 6:30 p.m.

"This will not be as big an economic impact for the city as was the [two-day] Scuffle," UTC associate athletic director Matt Pope said. "The last time we hosted the tournament (2008) the profit was about $8,000, and that was split among the five teams."

The conference tournament was held last year at Appalachian State and made about $3,000, Pope said.

The Scuffle netted UTC a profit of about $4,000, and the Mocs saved $7,000 by not having to travel to a tournament. Also, the Scuffle was big for the city. Smith said the tournament's economic impact was a conservative $225,000.

"That is using a team formula figuring 30 persons attending per team," he said. "It was probably more along the $300,000-$400,000 lines. That's a very good event, especially at that time of the year. To have $300,000 new brought into the community at the first of the year, along with the exposure, is very good."

Mocs coach Heath Eslinger, the driving force behind bringing the Southern Scuffle to Chattanooga from Greensboro, N.C., said the tournament is definitely a tourist attraction.

"We thought it would be an impact," Eslinger said. "That was one of the original selling points, but it had value as to what we bring to the athletic department and to the community. That affects people on every level."

The Scuffle and the conference tournament aren't big-bucks draws like the the Football Championship Subdivision title game, which was last played here at Finley Stadium in 2009, or even the two national softball events last summer that led to a record $26.5 million impact for 2011, according to Sports Committee numbers.

"But if you take out all those events that brought in $175,000 or $200,000, you wouldn't be close," Smith said. "The big [events] get the attention, but it's the consistent 'We're here every year' kind of events that are the backbone," Smith said. "[TSSAA] wrestling went away, the national championship football went away, and you have to take that for what it is, but neither is going to make or break our city."

How big an impact the SoCon wrestling tournament has on Chattanooga this year may depend on the addition of new members Campbell University and Gardner-Webb, which boosts the field from five to seven teams.

"We're hoping to draw between 1,500 and 2,000 for the day. It's hard to say how much the addition of two teams might change that," Pope said.

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765.