Chattanooga Football Club, Finley Stadium announce agreement

Chattanooga Football Club, Finley Stadium announce agreement

December 4th, 2018 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Updated at 10:47 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, with more information.

The 2018 calendar year began with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team and the Chattanooga Football Club soccer team as Finley Stadium's primary tenants.

It will end the same way, but there was significant adventure in between. The arrival of the Chattanooga Red Wolves pro soccer team and UTC athletic director Mark Wharton mentioning the thought of a future football home at Engel Stadium made for a unique year for Stadium Corp. chairman Gordon Davenport and his fellow board members.

"August and September were interesting," Davenport said Tuesday. "We were having a lot of discussions, but things weren't nearly as dramatic internally as they were reading externally. We're a venue. We put on events, and we were trying to be an honest broker in offering scheduling opportunities for our current partners, and we've ended up doing great long-term deals.

"I feel like we're leaving this year with better deals with all our partners, both in the length of terms and the clarity of understanding."

The CFC and Finley Stadium agreed Tuesday to a two-year deal with a one-year option that will keep the National Premier Soccer League team in the 20,688-seat facility built in 1997. The agreement is for 16 games per year, in which the CFC will pay the Stadium Corp. a direct fee of $3,000 per game.

"We're really excited to be moving forward. It's been a long few months," CFC general manager Sheldon Grizzle said. "When we started this club, this was the only option as far as where we were going to play, because it's where Chattanooga plays. If we had gone to a local high school or a local rec field and tried to build it out, it would not have had that sense of professionalism that we wanted out of the gates.

"This platform allowed us to build what we've built, and I think we're growing together. This is a big step for us, because we've never done a multiyear contract, but we're excited to make that commitment. We understand where our place is in this relationship and will do everything we can at all times to be a good partner."

Davenport met with Red Wolves officials about housing the United Soccer League team as well, but Red Wolves owner Bob Martino elected to play next year at Chattanooga Christian School. Martino plans to build a soccer stadium that will be ready for the 2020 season, with the site of that stadium expected to be revealed in February.

The 2019 season will be the 11th for CFC, with Grizzle pointing out that the team has a 64-19-11 all-time record at what is often called "Fort Finley."

Finley Stadium and UTC agreed in early October to a three-year extension for the university's football and women's soccer programs to use the facility. UTC is paying an annual fee of $146,880 with a 2-percent increase, according to terms of that new pact.

Wharton said Finley Stadium executive director Chris Thomas has been beneficial in this current deal, adding that Thomas is attending operations meetings for football games and that UTC has liaisons within the athletic department who communicate directly with him.

"We haven't had any hiccups or scheduling conflicts," Wharton said. "I think it was growing pains from transitions from their staffs to our staffs and who directly to communicate with, but we've already worked out our 2019 schedule."

Although their respective deals with Finley Stadium have been hammered out, both UTC and CFC head into 2019 with sizable challenges. UTC improved from 3-8 to 6-5 in Tom Arth's second season as coach, but the average attendance for the Mocs slipped to 43,761 total fans and 8,752 fans per game, their lowest averages in a decade.

"I was disappointed," Wharton said. "I think we made some strides with our students, but we still have a long way to go. Our biggest problem is trying to get the community. We have done some things as far as getting a third-party ticket firm, the same one UT has, to be able to work with groups.

"We need for UTC alums and fans in Chattanooga to come. If I could find that secret sauce, everything would be great, because that obviously drives revenue to where it can trickle down to our other programs that need resources."

The Mocs should have higher numbers next season simply based on the home schedule, which includes East Tennessee State, a budding rival again, and James Madison, which won the FCS national championship in 2016.

CFC, meanwhile, is stepping up next fall to a professional branch of the NPSL that contains 10 other teams, with the closest being in Detroit and Miami.

"There are a lot of potential teams and existing teams that are out there that have not made announcements as far as what they're going to do," Grizzle said. "When we started in the NPSL, there were only four teams in the Southeast Conference out of 30 teams nationwide, and we were the fifth team.

"Now there are 30-something teams in the Southeast Conference alone. We feel like we bring energy and momentum, and we have a great deal of confidence that wherever we go and whatever we do, it will build some momentum regionally."

The Stadium Corp. and the Chattanooga Market agreed Tuesday to a 10-year deal with a five-year option. Davenport, who called the Chattanooga Market "one of Chattanooga's best success stories," said the Stadium Corp. would continue to receive 7.5 percent of the market's sales commission.

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


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