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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / McCallie fans cheer during the game Friday. McCallie and Baylor faced off in the Division II-AAA rivalry game Friday, October 2, 2020.

Finley Stadium went from hemorrhaging $40,000 monthly after the March outbreak of the coronavirus to actually turning a profit during the first quarter of the 2020-21 fiscal year to even thriving in October.

What changed?

The Baylor-McCallie football showdown, for starters, plus the return of fans for Chattanooga FC soccer matches and other high school football games as well.

"Baylor-McCallie was our largest event of the year by far," Finley Stadium executive director Chris Thomas said Tuesday afternoon at a Stadium Corp. meeting conducted via Zoom. "It's frankly one of the largest events we've had in the last two or three years for all events at the stadium. Even under COVID restrictions, it was a very well-attended event.

"Each school received 2,000 tickets to make the 4,000 max capacity of the stadium during this environment, and I believe both schools sold out in less than six hours. It was a rapid event that was executed wonderfully, so a lot of praise to Baylor and McCallie for that."

McCallie's 33-14 triumph over the Red Raiders on Oct. 2 served as a stand alone game in the series, which has taken place on the two campuses in recent years. The schools were in agreement that neither McCallie's Spears Stadium nor Baylor's Heywood Stadium could house as many people for the rivalry, so Finley's 20,412-seat venue served as this year's site with McCallie resuming the campus locales next year.

Thomas said the Baylor-McCallie game provided Finley Stadium at least $15,000 in unexpected revenue.

McCallie's 38-22 victory over Calhoun on Sept. 11 and Chattanooga Christian's 49-21 win over Boyd Buchanan on Sept. 18 had crowds in the neighborhood of 2,000 and also aided in the financial recovery of Finley Stadium, which shut its gates from March 12 until reopening July 11 for CFC's match against the Georgia Revolution without spectators.

CFC held two September matches at Finley with fans and are conducting two more this month, including this Saturday's showdown against Maryland Bobcats FC.

"At the last meeting, I basically told the board that we were going to need about $50,000 a month in cash in order to survive indefinitely, but being able to reactivate has changed that," Thomas said. "We were technically profitable the first quarter of this fiscal year, and we've had a huge surge in October, which has made a huge impact on our outlook and our cash position and just our ability to get through the winter.

"The revised outlook is a lot more upbeat than what it was looking like back in our July meeting. This second quarter could be break even or better, which is great, and the third quarter is always money losing because we have no activity. The fourth quarter is the wild card."

The stadium's first quarter also was benefited by payments from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in July, August and September despite the Mocs not having any home games this year. Stadium Corp. board chairman Mike Davis and UTC athletic director Mark Wharton are working on an agreement for a potential Mocs spring football season that could be in place by the beginning of the year.

"If for some reason we do not have an agreement, if UTC is to play any spring football games, then UTC will pay for the cost of operating the facility for those events," Davis said.

Odds and ends

CFC managing director Jeremy Alumbaugh told the Stadium Corp. board that the "full intention" is to be back at Finley Stadium in 2021. Thomas on the Chattanooga Market having its strongest weekend of the year this past weekend: "We're seeing a sharp uptrend, which is great news." Mayoral candidate Tim Kelly asked not to be reappointed to the Stadium Corp. board due to obvious obligations elsewhere, with his spot being filled by Donna Harrison as a result of an appointment by current mayor Andy Berke.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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