It pleases us to report that more than 7,600 people paid to watch soccer in Chattanooga last Saturday (April 6).
Attendance at the Chattanooga FC vs. Detroit City NPSL match at Finley Stadium was reportedly about 4,100, while attendance at the Chattanooga Red Wolves vs. Forward Madison FC USL League One game at Chattanooga Christian School was about 3,500.
The home teams both won 1-0. So Chattanooga soccer fans all went home happy.
The attendance figures are remarkable when you consider that there was also a Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game in town that night (which drew about 5,000 fans) and that the NCAA Final Four was on television the same evening.
Anyone who thought the so-called "soccer war" between CFC and the Chattanooga Red Wolves would be won with a first-round knockout must have been disappointed. If you were scoring at ringside you'd have to call it a draw. In fact, you might wonder if it's a brawl at all.
As a fan of both teams, I was eager to see what would happen at the first of five overlapping games between now and the end of October. Some people argue that you can't be a fan of both teams, but that's frankly not their decision to make. If both teams thrive here and win championships, how could that be a bad thing?
April 6 might be an outlier for attendance. It was a gorgeous, mid-70-degree night in downtown Chattanooga, and the Red Wolves had the advantage of playing their historic home opener in USL League One. But CFC has a 10-year tradition and an unparalleled-in-its-class supporters group, the Chattahooligans.
(Full disclosure: I attended the Red Wolves game on April 6, but I also attended the March 23 CFC game against Guatemalan powerhouse Comunicaciones Futbol Club, which drew several thousand Hispanic fans in addition to the CFC regulars for a paid gate of more than 7,000.)
I don't know the financials, but it seems at least theoretically possible that both teams could survive drawing 4,000 to 5,000 fans a game, which doesn't seem like such a stretch after April 6.
For those of you who are new to Chattanooga's soccer teams, and the venues, here are some of the perks and quirks of both clubs.
* CFC: Advance tickets to CFC games are $10. All seats at Finley Stadium are general admission, so arrive early to snag the best sight lines. Only one side of the stadium is open for most games, but plenty of chair-back seats are available to early arrivals. If you like to sit up high and watch the shape of the game unfold, Finley is amazing.
* Red Wolves: Individual advance tickets to Red Wolves games are available in six tiers ranging from $10 to $30. Really, David Stanton Field at Chattanooga Christian School is such an intimate setting that there's not much difference in the cheapest seats and the most expensive ones. Next year, the Red Wolves are expected to move into a new soccer-specific stadium, where one assumes the differentiated pricing will serve more of a purpose. In the meantime, most of the seats at David Stanton Field are within a few yards of the field.
FOOD AND DRINK
* CFC: With multiple food and drink vendors, CFC game days offer a variety of culinary options. Our favorite is the pulled pork plate from the Puckett's window. Craft beers are also available in-stadium, and all prices are reasonable. Food trucks ring the eastern end of the stadium complex. The kids love shaved ice. Pizza and Tex-Mex vendors are also on the stadium's menu.
* Red Wolves: Chick-fil-A is a Red Wolves sponsor and the primary meal provider at David Stanton Field. For $8 you can get a combo meal with a chicken sandwich, a bag of chips and a cookie. There are also vendors selling candy, chips and drinks, and a tent for, you guessed it, shaved ice. A beer garden off premises provides access to brews.
* CFC: Fun halftime competitions involving kids, the raucous pregame procession of the Chattahooligans into the stadium and the post-game autographs are CFC traditions. Also, allowing kids to run around on the field after games to release energy is a gift to parents.
* Red Wolves: So, a team with one home game under its belt can't, by definition, have traditions. But you can begin to see a few things take shape. The Red Wolf "howl" is a thing. Players enter the field through a gauntlet of high-fiving fans (think the Vol Walk at Neyland Stadium). Also, there is a Disney-like devotion to customer service that is part of the Red Wolf game experience. My 12-year-old son and I were greeted by no fewer than six smiling staff members before we found our way to our seats. At a rainy preseason game a few weeks ago, a staffer arrived during the game to wipe down the bleachers.
QUALITY OF PLAY
* CFC: I've always thought the Chattanooga FC teammates play with a joyful exuberance. I love to stand behind the goal at Finley and here them chatter. The international accents are cool, too. There's a palpable bond between the players and the Chattahooligans that transcends the game. It's almost a college vibe.
* Red Wolves: The speed of the game and the quality of touches are impressive. It's clear these guys are playing for their daily bread. The level of the officiating is also first-rate. After the game, players disperse through the crowd to thank ticket buyers for their patronage. Hard-core soccer fans will take notice of the advanced level of play.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.