There is one notable upside to staging Chattanooga Lookouts games this spring inside a socially distanced AT&T Field.
Setting all sorts of sellout records.
The Lookouts opened their 2021 season last week with five consecutive sellout crowds, which is certainly a first for the 6,340-seat facility built in 2000. Due to Major League Baseball directives, AT&T Field is operating at roughly 40% capacity for the first 18 contests — or the first three homestands — with last Friday's announced attendance of 2,550 reflecting a 40.2% clip.
"It's been fantastic, and a great example was Mother's Day," Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said. "I think our crowd on Mother's Day (2,542) was better than any Mother's Day crowd that I can ever remember here. There was a lot of demand, and there were a lot of people who unfortunately got turned away, but the overall support was unbelievable."
The Lookouts, along with other minor league franchises across the country, took a financial battering last year, when venues sat vacant due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Mozingo is optimistic that larger crowds will be allowed this summer, which would result in long-awaited surplus opportunities.
Any surplus now is miniscule at best.
"Our business is so dependent upon knowing what's coming in, so that has been helpful for us," Mozingo said. "We can staff based on 2,500, and we can buy based on 2,500, so that makes it an easier proposition for us, but at 2,500, the margins are just super, super slim. If everything goes well, it's super, super slim."
Beginning Monday, the Lookouts will have tickets available for their fourth through sixth homestands of the season, which will cover June 22 to July 25 and should have increased or significantly increased capacity by then.
Chattanooga's scheduled opening night on May 4 was washed away, but that was quickly forgotten when more desirable weather arrived — not to mention the stellar pitching performances by touted Cincinnati Reds prospects Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo that catapulted the Lookouts to four victories in six games against the Rocket City Trash Pandas.
Greene set a professional baseball velocity record for a starting pitcher with 37 pitches in excess of 100 mph in his May 5 start, but that Wednesday evening also included a stalled clock above the left-field scoreboard, significant static that prevented the performer from singing the national anthem, and the absence of "Trash Pandas" and "Lookouts" from the scoreboard's line score. Worsening matters was the speed pitch machine, which reflected Greene's first two pitches at 36 and 80 mph.
"There was a lot of something going on, but we're getting there," Mozingo said. "We had a guy come by last week to talk about our sound system, so that was just a fluke thing. The clock was something we found out about last Tuesday. The people who service the line score on the scoreboard were out here four times in April and are coming back again. Those 21 months just kind of bit us in the behind, and that's what happened.
"We should have some, if not all, of those things rectified by the next time the team is in town."
The Lookouts are in Montgomery this week and will be in Mississippi next week. They do not return to AT&T Field until May 25, when they play the Tennessee Smokies.
Judging by the fan reaction to minor league baseball being back in Chattanooga, more sellouts could be on the way.
"We actually talked earlier this week at a staff meeting about how positive the people were at these first games," Mozingo said. "It was just overwhelming, and I was kind of blown away by the positive responses we got."