Since becoming Finley Stadium's executive director in January 2014, Paul Smith has been seeking ways to enhance alcohol sales at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga home football games while having the school's support as well.
Smith has accomplished that mission.
For the first time in Finley Stadium history, the 20,668-seat facility has produced revenues in excess of $1 million.
Finley executive director Paul Smith said Tuesday that the stadium that opened in 1997 has housed events that have earned $1,091,012.44 as of March 21. That total will rise given that the Chattanooga FC has four home games — one in May and three in June — scheduled in this current fiscal year.
“We’re in the best financial position we’ve ever been in,” Stadium Corp. board chairman Bryan Patten said.
Starting with the 2016 season, beer will be sold on Finley's West Plaza, which overlooks the field and is across the street from the First Tennessee Pavilion. Alcohol already is sold at the Stadium Club and in the 20,668-seat facility's luxury suites.
"The Stadium Club room has been selling beer for a long time, so people could go in there and have a beverage, but they had to stay in there," Smith said. "Fans will now be able to see, hear and feel the atmosphere of college football and enjoy a beer at the same time, as opposed to being in a room with eight TVs."
Smith announced the new designated drinking area Tuesday during the quarterly meeting of the Stadium Corp. board of directors.
Earlier this month, the University of Florida announced that about 5,000 fans in premium seating at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be able to purchase alcohol during the 2016 season. Other major college football programs, including Miami, Texas and West Virginia, sell beer throughout their athletic facilities, but alcohol will remain unavailable to UTC supporters in Finley's general concourse area.
Fans who purchase beer at the West Plaza, which also is being called Stadium Club West, will not be able to take it to their seats.
"We've looked at this closely for a couple of years," UTC athletic director David Blackburn said. "We've had concerns, and this obviously is something we don't promote, but given how Paul Smith and the Stadium Corporation have done such a good job of managing it at other events, we felt like it could be managed and contained properly in the plaza area.
"A lot of schools with off-campus facilities are doing this, and we're doing it this season and we'll see how it goes. There are actually studies that show venues that serve it like this will reduce the percentage of incidents like fighting and something worse, because they don't feel like they need to binge before they go into the venue."
Beer is sold throughout Finley Stadium for Chattanooga Football Club soccer games. In the six Chattanooga FC home games last July and August, alcohol sales were $77,247.51, according to Stadium Corp. financial records.
Smith knows the Stadium Club West could be accompanied by problems, most notably overcrowding to where some fans can't watch the game.
"That is a concern, and another concern is the ingress and regress out of it," he said. "We don't want to block the concourse areas for people coming over from the pavilion, but we'll check with the fire marshal and make sure we're letting in the appropriate number of people.
"Demand is a good thing, so we're going to do it this year and see how it goes. We expect it to be popular but not overly popular."
The debut of the Stadium Club West area will be Sept. 1, when the three-time Southern Conference champion Mocs open against Shorter University.
"The first home game is on a Thursday night, and we feel like that will be a pretty popular place," Smith said, "but some of the home games kick off at 2 o'clock, so it may not be as popular for those games. The Stadium Club West will open when we open the gates 90 minutes before kickoff, and we're going to cut off alcohol sales there at the end of the third quarter.
"This is about enhancing the UTC football experience and offering beer by doing the exact same thing we've done, but at a new area."
CFC contract set
Smith announced Tuesday that the Chattanooga FC will pay Finley Stadium $36,000 in rental fees for the upcoming season. The stadium will share in 25 percent of the CFC parking revenue and 15 percent of CFC's food and beverage revenue.
The contract with CFC has a three-year renewal option after this year.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.