Chief Sports Officer Tim Morgan of Chattanooga Sports made a friendly public appeal to Lookouts President Rich Mozingo at the North Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday.
“We need to build enough seat capacity to go after the SEC tournament,” he said to Mr. Mozingo, who was not present.
Mr. Morgan made this energetic dare as he outlined efforts by Chattanooga Sports, a division of Chattanooga Tourism Company, to recruit more regional and national events like the Ironman held last Sunday.
Mr. Morgan said that after McKenzie Arena's current major renovation is complete, that space could be reconfigured for the SEC women's collegiate basketball tournament. McKenzie Arena hosted that event last in 2000 after hosting several in the 1990s.
"We're not going to give up," he said.
Mr. Morgan said that Ironman triathletes have requested Chattanooga these 11 years, and now their fans and parents are retiring to the Scenic City. That "intangible" benefit to the city is not counted in the $1.6 billion in sales generated by tourism last year, as reported at the Chattanooga Tourism Summit held last week.
"That's new money that's coming into our community," Mr. Morgan said.
Mr. Morgan said he'd like to make Chattanooga a "Tennessee Title Town" and attract TSSAA state championships year after year. But TSSAA wants financial guarantees and measured local support, he said. He said regional participation in the November BlueCross Bowl "only amplifies the experience" and would open the door to even bigger annual events he wants.
"We need to see Bradley County come into the BlueCross Bowl," he said, also praising South Pittsburg and Miegs County high school teams. He said the Bowl was "one yard away" from a Baylor-McCallie matchup this year, which would have meant a sold-out Finley Stadium.
Mr. Morgan added that the Lookouts stadium could attract Georgia's high school open invitational in baseball, an event that would "make sense" to the local community and win that local buy-in that facilitates bigger events.
"You find the passion, you will find the following," he said, citing last weekend's second-annual Outboard Drag Boat Racing Association World Championships at Chester Frost Park, which hosted 80 boats.
Also on Mr. Morgan's radar is the International World Rally Championships, a car race which has been held outside of the United States for 36 years. Such a win would require deep levels of networking and politicking, he said.
Chattanooga Sports serves as the area's community sports commission, Mr. Morgan said. Chattanooga Sports attracts about 80 events per year from outside an 80-mile radius, bringing 135,000 out-of-town participants and spectators to Chattanooga who generate $93 million in economic activity, he said.
"Sometimes we inconvenience our residents and for that I absolutely apologize," he said. "We appreciate y'all's willingness to bear with us."
Mr. Morgan said Chattanooga Sports is at the mere "tip of the spear" in realizing its potential.
- Mountain biking at the new Walden's Ridge downhill trail:
"Walden's Ridge is phenomenal, not necessarily for the novice but for the professional," Mr. Morgan said. Chattanooga Sports could court existing USA Cycling events, or create its own.
- Primitive obstacle course racing:
Mr. Morgan said a partnership between city, county and the Tennessee River Gorge Trust will produce a foot race in a 400-acre native space.
"It is absolutely on the whiteboard," he said.
- Frost Stadium at Warner Park has been upgraded for NCAA Division II softball, and Mr. Morgan said coaches are asking to have a Chattanooga tournament every year. This puts Chattanooga in a tier with Oklahoma City's annual Division I tournament and the World Series in Omaha, he said.
- When pressed by a member of the audience, Mr. Morgan said his "dream event" is a Crossfit International event. He said Chattanooga came very close to hosting a regional Crossfit event at the Convention Center, but restructuring by Crossfit made existing regions obsolete and the idea crumbled.