Two BlueCross Bowls at Finley have provided $5.5 million for Chattanooga

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / The Baylor School student section cheers during last month's 38-34 topping of Montgomery Bell Academy at Finley Stadium during the Division II-AAA football state championship game.

Two years into its Chattanooga stay, the BlueCross Bowl has encountered more than 50,000 fans descending upon Finley Stadium for the TSSAA football championship games.

Roughly $200,000 worth of food and beverages have been sold at the extravaganza, and the city itself has experienced an economic impact of $5.5 million. What's not to like about those numbers, especially considering the TSSAA had never staged the BlueCross Bowl in Chattanooga until December 2021?

"The BlueCross Bowl was another huge success for all involved," Finley Stadium executive director Brian Wright said Tuesday, "and working with Chattanooga Sports and all that we learned from year one really paid off. Things were smoother as far as traffic operations, better gate staffing and concession line management.

"Having experienced multiple Georgia state championships at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, I think Finley is the perfect venue for it, and Chattanooga, as a whole, goes above and beyond making it a great experience for all who visit."

Last month marked Wright's first BlueCross Bowl, but it was the second for Tim Morgan, the chief sports officer at Chattanooga Sports, which is a division of the Chattanooga Tourism Co. The BlueCross Bowl contains nine title matchups each year, and this past December's crowd of 23,755 was shy of the 27,052 the first time around.

Morgan said that the lower ticket count last month was countered by more overnight trips, thus enhancing the overall economic impact.

"We had beautiful weather our first year, and I think that made a difference," Morgan said. "We have heard nothing but glowing remarks."

Of the 36 title participants who have competed in the two Chattanooga-hosted BlueCross Bowls, only four have been from this area -- McCallie and South Pittsburg in 2021, and Baylor and Tyner this past season. All four of those Chattanooga-area schools won their respective championships.

The objective now is to land a two-year extension for the 2023-24 events, with Morgan citing the need in the weeks ahead to maximize revenue opportunities for the TSSAA, the event vendors and the city's partnerships.

Morgan is hopeful everything can be in place by March to where Chattanooga receiving a two-year extension will be a mere formality at that month's TSSAA board meeting.

CFC extension

Chattanooga FC and Finley Stadium announced a three-year extension with a one-year option Tuesday for the National Independent Soccer Association team to continue playing its matches at the 20,412-seat facility often labeled "Fort Finley."

"This is the longest agreement we've had with CFC," Stadium Corp. board chairman Mike Davis said. "I think both sides see the benefits of the extended agreement."

Before joining the professional ranks, CFC set a United States amateur attendance record in August 2015, when 18,227 watched the team fall to New York Cosmos B 3-2 in extra time during the championship match of the National Premier Soccer League.

Both the U.S. men's and women's national teams have vied in Finley Stadium, and the venue is nearing another big event with CFC's friendly against Atlanta United on Jan. 28. This will mark the second time that Atlanta United, the 2018 MLS champion, has visited Chattanooga, having posted a 4-0 victory before 12,484 Finley faithful in February 2017.

That match took place before Atlanta United's inaugural season, which aided in the stellar crowd. CFC managing director Jeremy Alumbaugh said Tuesday that 5,000 or 6,000 is more reasonable for this friendly.

Odds and ends

Samantha Brennan, the stadium's event booking manager, said Tuesday that 147 events are already on the 2023 calendar and that those events are projected to bring in 431,171 people. ... Board member Larry Parks, who heads the facility upgrades, has 49 items on his "needs and wants list," which ranges from LED lighting to elevator improvements to updating the Stadium Club. ... Wright said that food and beverage sales are up 13.9% from this time last year and that parking revenue is up 14%.

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