Chattanooga businesses ready for BlueCross Bowl high school football championships

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Brandon Wilson with Vincent Printing helps put up a banner at Finley Stadium on Tuesday. The TSSAA's nine BlueCross Bowl football state championship games will be held at the stadium this week, with three each on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

For more BlueCross Bowl coverage from the Times Free Press, read more here.

Nobody is getting any time off this weekend at the two Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurants in Chattanooga.

"These players are going to have their whole families with them, and families love pizza," owner Brandy Burgans said. "I've told everyone, prepare for a lot of hungry teenage boys."

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's BlueCross Bowl high school football playoffs will bring 40,000-50,000 people to Chattanooga from across the state for a three-day throwdown Thursday through Saturday, delivering about $3 million in economic impact in the process, local tourism officials estimate.

"We have three games a day for three days," said Barry White, CEO of the Chattanooga Tourism Co. "It's great for the community, and I know it's going to be great for the guests who visit town. We want people to leave and be talking about Chattanooga almost a much as they're talking about the competition itself."

Chattanooga won a down-to-the-wire competition in March to host the event, nabbing it from Cookeville, where the playoffs had been hosted since 2009.

The Scenic City is set to host for at least two years, but TSSAA could choose to bring the event back to town if they're happy with the experience, White said.

"Our job is to provide the best visitor experience and really wow all of our guests," White said. "If we do that, which I know we will - we have a great destination - I hope we'll have this for many years to come."

Kacey Swindell, director of sales for the Moxy Chattanooga Downtown, said she's been joking that the annual MainX24 street festival that will happen Saturday just blocks from the competitions at Finley Stadium will double as a large-scale tailgate party.

"It's going to be wild on the Southside," Swindell said. "We're glad to be the spot in between games if people are going to more than one and want to take a break."

The hotel is hosting the Tennessee Coaches Association for a Thursday brunch and meeting, Swindell said.

"These are the coaches whose teams are not in the playoffs, and we're expecting 50 or 60," she said.

With so many events coming together in the area, she's keeping an eye on how things flow, Swindell added.

"I've been a little nervous about the compression in the neighborhood, and I'm curious to see how that plays out," she said. "I hope it's a big, fun event that feels like a celebration for the players, too."

Burgans knows her staff will have their hands full juggling pizza customers waiting to be seated, she said. Already, the phone has been ringing with large groups asking to book multiple tables, she said.

"We anticipate being on a wait all weekend," she said. "We're ready. We can pair up with Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's to keep people happy while they wait."

The playoff lineup of teams is a mix of locals and out-of-town competitors, with the South Pittsburg and McCallie teams drawing lots of area fans, as well as a roster of 16 more teams from as far away as McKenzie, Tennessee, which is 253 miles northwest of Chattanooga.

That bodes well for ticket sales, which locals tend to snap up in large numbers, and hotels, restaurants and other attractions, where out-of-towners will gravitate, White said.

"It's great to have the hometown teams in the mix," he said. "There's always a sense of pride that comes with that."

Finley Stadium has a capacity of just over 20,000, and about 5,000 tickets had been sold by late Tuesday, White said. Organizers expected demand to grow as people make plans to head for Chattanooga, he said.

The heated competition for spots in the playoff runs until less than a week before the event, which makes it tough to sell very far in advance, White added.

"You have to consider a lot of teams didn't know they were coming until late Friday night," he said. "Some schools are buying blocks of hundreds of tickets - as many as 450 tickets - and loading up their buses and bringing students."

Swindell said she's looking forward to learning from this weekend to make the event even better next year.

"I know we are repeating this in 2022, so we'll have a better picture after this year wraps up of what the event requires," she said.

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.