As a long time Chattanoogan, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The University Athletic department, as well as the University as a whole (including the Mother Ship in Knoxville) have given its loyal fans and alumni more frustration and disappointment the last 20 + years.
Forty years ago, the Mocs joined the Southern Conference and instantly had natural rivalries with great sports schools like Marshall, ETSU and Western Carolina. I remember many basketball games with over 11,000 in McKenzie Arena to see a conference basketball game or a packed-out Chamberlain Field for a great football game. I don’t think men like Harold Wilkes and Murray Arnold, as well as Mack McCarthy got enough credit. These men tried to IMPROVE the athletic department and move the university athletics up the ladder. Many of our conference foes, in much smaller markets, have continued to grow their sports program (which is the main marketing and public relations tool of the university). Not UTC.
I guess it goes back to losing our symbol, Chief Mocanooga. Due to political correctness, the Native American hero had to be changed to the bird. If a mascot is to be somewhat intimidating to the other team, a bird driving a train, well was an embarrassment. I think the University paid $28,000 in 1990s money to a marketing firm for this sad logo.
Next, was the years that many local business and civic leaders, not to mention fans, pushed for a new football stadium to replace 90-year-old Chamberlin Field. After over 10 years of pushing, pleading and sweat and tears, the community delivered the jewel of the Southside. Only UTC refused to commit to the football program, and again crowds dropped and the excitement died.
A little ray of hope came across when Russ Huesman, a UTC alum came home. Coach Huesman gave us the best product on the field since Joe Morrison days, and the crowds were improving. There again, the powers that be in the Athletic Department let this great talent leave for a very similar position.
Which brings me to the whole reason I am writing this. After all the years of fighting for Finley Stadium, the Stadium board and UTC are in negotiations and UTC may leave this facility that was fought so hard to get for, mainly, UTC football. And the powers at UTC want to spend millions on a 12,500-seat facility for the Mocs to play in. How much farther back are we going to have to slide?
As far as marketing, I have always heard “we can’t compete with the SEC. Well, we don’t have to try to compete with the SEC.
Using my UTC School of Business marketing degree, let’s look at some numbers.
The Chattanooga MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) population as of 2010 was 528,143. If UTC could draw just 4 percent six times a year, that would be 21,125 per game, or yearly attendance on only six regular season games of 126,754.
Average attendance for Conferences UTC could move up to in 2017 were 19,248 per game for Conference USA and 17,843 for the Sunbelt Conference (per NCAA).
So, The Chattanooga market can support this move.
So, how do we do this? First it starts with commitments. The University must commit to a plan and set short and long-term goals to grow the Athletic Department and budgets. This is where administration and the athletic director are going to have to start thinking like businessmen and not state employees. Five to ten-year goals of taking the football program to Division 1 mid-major status is a must.
You will also have to make a commitment to raise money. Yes, this takes work, but the excitement will draw both corporate and individual donors, not to mention fans.
From the city where private-public partnerships brought us the Tennessee Aquarium, the North Shore and Southside, this shouldn’t be hard at all. Chattanooga is a rapidly growing and progressive city. Let’s look at other universities in similar markets and bring the Mocs back to the front of the pack.
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I agree with several of Mr. Goodman’s comments. UTC is one of Chattanooga’s true jewels. I’ve been attending football games regularly for the past nine years. I agree with his assertion that the Mocs should be drawing more fans for home games. Other than the Lookouts, I think it’s the best sports entertainment value for the buck in town. When Russ Huesman was fielding some of the best teams in the College Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the Mocs were still drawing crowds of 12,000 or less.
I don’t agree that UTC should set an objective of obtaining membership in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS division 1). We are right in the middle of SEC country with Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, and Vandy all less than a three-hour drive from Chattanooga attracting many fans and alums that would otherwise be following UTC and possibly contributing to our poor home-game attendance. The cost of joining the FBS would distract valuable financial support from other university programs. Russ Huesman proved we can be successful in Chattanooga at the FCS level and Tom Arth’s recruiting class last year proved he can do the same.
Sure, I’d love to see 20,000 fans in the seats for every Moc’s home football game, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen in Chattanooga – regardless of our team’s mascot. And Chattanooga is unlikely to ever regain the Championship game from Frisco, TX or other cities interested in hosting the event. So, if moving to a renovated 15,000 seat Engel Stadium can create more excitement about the football Mocs, provide a home for other UTC sports teams, and a new athletic office complex, I’m all for it. Go Mocs!
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It is obvious both Greg Goodman and Bob Linehart are loyal Moc fans and bring up some interesting points in their letters. Mr Goodman addresses the point I have always made when some Moc fans complain about the Vols taking support away from the Mocs. We live in a SMA of probably 550,000 people, if every one of the 100,000 fans in Neyland Stadium drove up from our area that still leaves 450,000 local people for UTC to to market to.
Literally every sport is suffering from actual attendance declines, including SEC football. The competition is not the games in Knoxville, Auburn, Athens, Tuscaloosa and other venues, rather it is the 62 inch 4K HDTV sitting above the fireplace. I had UT season tickets for 40 years and gave them up six years ago. Certainly age (65 at the time) and the Vols lack of competitiveness were factors, but the biggest issue was I would just rather stay at home and watch three or four of the biggest games.
Good luck to the Mocs whatever path they decide to take. It's a tough world out there for the entertainment dollar.