After the past two years when activity at Finley Stadium was subdued, the board is now making plans to ramp up use of the facility again and gearing up to handle large events. Updates from partners that use the facility are positive. UTC will be playing its spring game and five regular season home games at Finley Stadium. Chattanooga Football Club’s season starts March 26 with about 18 home games including exhibition games and, additionally this year, there will be a woman’s team playing 5-6 matches for the first time in four years.
The CFC will focus on ticket sales to large groups in the Chattanooga area, which is expected to increase sales. The opening weekend for the Chattanooga Market is April 23-24. After being limited for the past two years, all events will be back this year, said Melissa Lail, general manager of the market. And the agreement with TSSAA sports for the Blue Cross Bowl championship game will continue for a second year.
The stadium has already booked around 177 events for 2022, and some of the large fundraising events are returning, said Executive Director Chris Thomas. And for the first time a large concert will be held. The Kane Brown Blessed & Free Tour will be on Saturday, May 7. Ticket sales started on Feb. 11. “This has the potential to be the largest event Finley Stadium has ever hosted and a great opportunity for Chattanooga,” said Mr. Thomas. Because of some loss of line-of-sight from in some areas of the stadium, ticket sales are projected to be about 20,000. "We are hoping this will be the first of many more concerts," he said.
The late Bobby Stone was on the Finley Stadium Board of Directors. He was also the grandson of Max Finley for whom the stadium is named. Mr. Stone’s family donated $200,000 for the Bobby Stone Memorial Fund to be used by the stadium with the condition that it be used to prepare for a public concert. Board Chair Mike Davis made a motion to use the money now to make repairs that will make some facilities such as the restrooms, the kitchen and concession areas more functional, which will be needed to handle a large concert. This use meets the criteria of the gift and the board approved the motion.
The facility is now 26 years old and the need for repairs and improvements is becoming more apparent, said Mr. Davis. He told the board that $1,769, 853 in work has been identified. What the stadium employees have been able to do themselves has reached its limits, he said. The needs include Homeland Security recommendations, repairs to the general structure of the stadium, the field and First Horizon Pavilion. Improvements are also needed for the concourse, stands concession areas and the press box. Mr. Davis also would like to build a new field office with lockers.
Other needed repairs include replacing AstroTurf that was damaged when a team set off flares at the Blue Cross Bowl. The cost to replace the damaged turf is $23,000 and TSSAA will reimburse the stadium for it. A driver in the parking lot next to Naked River Brewing knocked over a concrete light pole that fell across three cars. It is expected that his insurance will reimburse the cost of $26,000 to replace it. And replacement of some of the lighting in the pavilion is needed because parts are not available to fix it. It makes sense to replace all the lights with new LEDs at the same time, which will cost $65,000, but it is expected to last for 20-25 years. Also, soccer goals need to be replaced that will cost $12,000.
Inflationary pressures and shortages will have an effect on costs for all of this work plus just about every aspect of running the stadium. The inflation that has been experienced recently is around 7.6 percent above last year. Managing the facility will have to be adjusted to the changes in expenses, said Mr. Davis. Among other things, the price of food has gone up at least 20 percent so concession prices will need to follow the increase, and the price of field paint has gone up 50 percent if it can be found. In the past it cost $5,000 to paint the field green, now it will cost $14,000. All the increases will call for adjustments in the prices at the stadium. “Hopefully the supply chain problem will diminish at some point," said Mr. Thomas. "It is a real challenge without a clear path forward.” The motion passed to increase the rates of skyboxes by seven percent to mirror the inflation rate. This increase will not be automatically renewed.
From July through December 2021 Finley Stadium had a net income of $378,937. It received $326,324 in contributions and public support, including two forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans for about $180,000, due to the shutdown caused by COVID. If you take away the public support, it leaves around just $50,000 net profit which is really operating on a break-even basis, said the executive director.
In the past, a source of income for the stadium corporation was derived from using the lots for parking when it was not being used for stadium events. That business has been managed by Republic Parking that was later acquired by REEF Parking. Mr. Thomas told the board that discrepancies were noticed in October when the company stopped sending financial statements to support payments that were being made to the stadium. Because of that, payments cannot be verified. The company has not complied despite the multiple requests for the documentation. Mr. Thomas recommended to terminate the agreement with REEF, which will be done after they have been given 15 days’ notice. Another parking company Bright Base has brought a proposal to manage parking around the stadium. The terms are the same except the management fees have been reduced from 35 percent to 18 percent, which makes it more economical for Finley Stadium. This is a local partner and one that will supply financial statements, said Mr. Thomas. A contract will be negotiated with Bright Base once the old agreement with REEF is terminated.
Another project being considered, is to allow Tesla to build a charging station on vacant property near the dog park that is owned by the stadium. Attorney Kurt Faires, representing the stadium, told the board that the offer made by Tesla to lease the land for $1,200 a month makes no sense. Additionally, as it is understood now, the super charger station would only service Teslas. He said there may be a more versatile charging station coming up that could charge different brands, which would be of greater interest. Mr. Faires has written a contract countering the offer from Tesla that he said would be beneficial to Finley Stadium. It is in their hands now and the stadium is waiting for a response.
The Finley Stadium Board will meet next on April 19.