Nobody will ever confuse April 2021 for April 2020 in and around Finley Stadium.
A year after the 20,412-seat facility sat vacant following the outbreak of the coronavirus — resulting in monthly losses of $40,000 until late last summer — Finley Stadium is hopping again along with its sidekick, the First Horizon Pavilion.
This weekend alone, the Chattanooga Market will begin commemorating its 20th year with activity both Saturday and Sunday, with Sunday night at Finley serving as the championship match of the National Independent Soccer Association's Legends Cup. One of the teams already is set, with Chattanooga FC having drubbed the Los Angeles Force and New Amsterdam by a combined 7-1 count to reach the final.
"This year is truly one of our busiest so far," Finley Stadium executive director Chris Thomas said Tuesday. "Our partners are returning, and we have a whole slew of partners who are brand new to working with us and are coming forward as well. Some are seeking bigger venues than normal in order to provide social distancing for their events, but we're also seeing a brand new class of event promoter come forward to try and do some great things with us.
"The level of activity right now is really kind of insane, and our biggest challenge right now is staffing. Across the nation, the work force is just hard to come by right now, especially in the food and beverage hospitality. We don't want to overextend our team. We just want to make sure we can stage safe and successful events for our clients."
CFC's win over New Amsterdam transpired last Saturday before 2,249 fans, and an even larger crowd could be in store Sunday night. Sunday's opponent for CFC will be the winner of Thursday night's semifinal match between San Diego and Detroit.
The largest crowd at Finley since the coronavirus outbreak was 4,000, which attended McCallie's 33-14 football triumph over Baylor last October.
"Hosting this tournament has been great, and I think it has shined a light on our city and our facilities and our partners," CFC managing director Jeremy Alumbaugh said. "The clubs, players and fans who are here are loving it — being able to walk from the Marriott down to the stadium for a practice or even a game is something unique about our setup, and it's been great to see crowds coming back.
"We're working hard to get a big crowd, and after this tournament is over, we will shift to two home games in May and two home games in June. Our calendar is set for July as well, and once this tournament is over, that announcement will come out."
Alumbaugh was hired in December 2019, so these are the first sizable crowds that he has witnessed in his CFC role.
The Chattanooga Market will open at 10 a.m. Saturday and run through 5 p.m. On Sunday, the hours will be from 11-4.
"It's one of those things that makes people feel like we're getting back to a sense of normalcy," said Melissa Lail, the Chattanooga Market's director of marketing and public relations. "We are not as reduced in capacity as we were in 2020, but we're not full blown out like normal, either. We're allowing for some social distancing, so it will be a nice blend of normal and caution.
"As we move forward into June and July, we expect to bring back live music and the full themes and things like that."
Thomas said Finley Stadium is up roughly $135,000 in the current fiscal year, having somewhat avoided the annual troublesome stint of January through March, when events are sparse. The stadium was down $39,000 this year in that stretch, but the deficit was $80,000 last year.
One thing that aided this year's figure was the UTC-Mercer football game on March 27 that had 3,144 spectators.
"The stadium has come out of its hiatus and is running full steam," Stadium Corp. chairman Mike Davis said. "That is neat to see."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.