Wiedmer: Soccer, $4 beer good sell

Wiedmer: Soccer, $4 beer good sell

May 22nd, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Chattanooga midfielder Mark Beattie breaks away from the Knoxville Force defense during the game played Saturday at Finley Stadium. Staff photo by Robin Rudd/Chattanooga Times Free Press

A 16-ounce Big River Vienna Lager will set you back $4 this summer for Chattanooga Football Club games at Finley Stadium.

But to CFC co-founder Tim Kelly, the ability to sell beer at CFC games is priceless.

"Clearly, it doesn't hurt," said Kelly before the team's 1-0 victory over the Knoxville Force on Saturday evening. "It definitely helps."

CFC general manager Sean McDaniel went further, noting, "I don't know that it brings in more numbers, but it makes the experience that much better for those who wish to drink. Just adds to the ambiance. Plus, I think beer has been synonymous with pro sporting events for a long time."

For the record, the CFC is amateur soccer. But perhaps the beer makes it seem professional, which is what many hope the team can one day become.

And when it comes to the pros, beer rules. Even in Atlanta, the Coca-Cola capital of the universe, the only electric sign as prominent as Coke's in Turner Field is Budweiser.

Or as CFC fan Sarah Davidson noted as she carefully carried three beers back to her friends, "I'd still come to the games. I'm a big soccer fan. But the beer definitely makes it more relaxing."

Knoxville general manager Jason Goss wouldn't know. The Force plays its home games at the University of Tennessee's Regal Soccer Stadium, which doesn't allow alcohol sales.

"We hope to build our own stadium in three to five years," said Goss, whose father, Barry, owns the team. "And we believe beer definitely draws a different market, especially men and women from their early 20s to early 30s.

"But we're also trying to sell this as family entertainment, and not having beer available might help that. We had 1,300 to our first home game and we thought that was pretty good. But we definitely plan to sell beer when we have our park. We definitely think it will help."

Chatta-hooligans member Chris Hawkins would second that. He's so into the CFC that he stands throughout each game while waving a large pale blue and white flag, Hawkins was first enticed to Finley last season by Ernie Dempsey, who beats the giant drum in the hooligans' section 110.

"I was doing the tailgating and all before my first game last year," the 37-year-old Hawkins explained, "and I asked Ernie, 'Do they sell beer?' He told me they sold Big River beer.

"I said, 'That's it!' And I've been coming to every home game since. I even went to the playoff game in Huntsville last season. And the beer really helps. I stand and yell the whole game. The beer keeps my vocal chords lubricated."

So how much lubricating gets done at Chattanooga Football Club games? CFC personnel who hand out wristbands to those with valid IDs said they'd distributed "several hundred" to the official crowd of 2,056 for the Force game. Anyone wishing to purchase a beer from Big River vendors must have a wristband.

"We'll typically go through two to four kegs a game," said Big River's Mike Deaver. "That's close to 600 beers. I'd say we're selling beer to roughly 25 percent of the crowd, maybe more."

And the crowd favorite?

"The Viena Lager," Deaver said. "Amber in color, not too strong."

For those who like microbrew beers, it is definitely tough to beat the price. The $4 tag is in line with Chattanooga Lookouts domestic beer prices and roughly half the price of a similarly sized specialty brew at Atlanta Braves games.

And as Hawkins noted, "The hotter [the weather] gets, the better a cold beer tastes."

Still, most CFC fans at Finley on Saturday appeared to give more credit to the team than the beer for their presence, which should make Knoxville feel better as it strives to approach CFC's 2010 gaudy attendance average of slightly above 4,000.

"I'm here to watch the game," said Chuck Betts, clad in an official CFC jersey. "And I'd be here whether they sold beer or not."

But a few seconds later, Betts sought to clarify his position.

"There's definitely something to be said," he added, "for a really good $4 beer."

Or to slightly reverse an old advertising jingle for a certain domestic beer, when it comes to packing an amateur soccer stadium, perhaps a micro brew that tastes great can be more filling.