Finley's schedule light on prep football

Finley's schedule light on prep football

December 16th, 2012 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

East Hamilton played most of its 2010 home football games at Finley Stadium, and Ringgold played all of its 2011 home games there.

The number of high school football events at Finley dropped to two this past season -- the two-day high school football jamboree in mid-August and the Baylor-McCallie game on Sept. 21. The jamboree currently is the only high school football event scheduled for 2013.

Increased use by high schools is something Merrill Eckstein, the stadium's executive director, would like to see.

Is it financially feasible?

"I think so," he replied.

Are high school games something he would pursue?

"If the interest is there and financial figures make sense, we'd be able to pursue a game," he said. "But I do think it needs to be a marquee game. You need a crowd for a 20,000-seat facility, and you'd want a game that makes sense for the teams and the stadium."

Most teams are reluctant to move a marquee home game to Finley because of the expenses.

Signal Mountain coach Bill Price said he would want a $12,000 guarantee because that's about what his team generates for big games.

"There are some challenges. In my time here we have never talked to schools about a guarantee," Eckstein said. "Some promoters have done that -- paid teams to come in and play -- and I don't think they did well financially. It's a challenge. Even if you paid some teams to come in and play to offset [their] financial losses, it still doesn't bring anything to the booster club or the band boosters."

Ringgold used the facility rent-free after its stadium was ravaged by a tornado, paying for lights and security with Finley getting parking and concessions.

"We were able to make it work," Eckstein said.

In the future, though, he'd like to see hand-picked high school games played at Finley on Thursday nights.

"I'm intrigued by the possibility, but I think you'd have to structure a two-year deal," he said.

It all comes back to who can afford what.

Jamboree organizer Todd Agne handled ticket sales and sponsorship revenue, paid the light and security bills and then split a portion of gate receipts with the participating teams, Eckstein said.

East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood, whose Hurricanes played at Finley before the school had a football facility, said he wouldn't really be interested in returning.

"I wouldn't do it. We're at home. We get the gate receipts and parking, and our band boosters get the concessions revenue," he said. "If you go [to Finley], all you get is gate receipts, but then you still have to pay a [lighting and security] fee."

There too is the comfort for fans of playing at home, he added.

"We don't mind going on the road. Our kids enjoy it," Gatewood said. "But it's awfully nice to walk from your locker room to the field and having the kids in a controlled environment."

The Hurricanes have become used to packed houses at home, which likely would not be the case at Finley.

"Now it would be an awesome environment if you could pack it out but not so good if both sides are only partially full and there are a lot of empty seats," Gatewood said. "It's a much better environment when you're at your own place and it's packed. You have 6,000 people show up here, and that's awesome. You could wind up losing opportunities to generate revenue."

Revenue is also important to those who operate Finley Stadium.

"What we would want is marquee games that are going to draw," Eckstein acknowledged, "and those are the same ones they want at home for home-field advantage and so others like their band boosters can generate revenue from concessions stands and/or parking."

Baylor and McCallie once used Chamberlain Field on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus, and McCallie athletic director Bubba Simmons said he still remembers the packed stands there with red dominating one side and blue the other.

McCallie now uses Finley for its home games with Baylor, and it has been a relief for the Blue Tornado, Simmons said.

"We discussed bringing the game back on campus, but if we got a crowd like we get at Finley, where are we going to put them? Since I've been here the crowd has varied anywhere from 9,000 to 12,000," he said.

But the possibility remains for more high school games at Finley.

"I'd love to have more," Eckstein said.