With news of a professional soccer team coming to Chattanooga, it’s unclear where the new club would play, but the head of the management group that operates Finley Stadium said he is looking forward to discussions about additional events there.
“Our calendar is busy, but there is adequate capacity for new partners and events,” Chris Thomas, executive director of Public Markets Inc., which manages the stadium, said via email. “We’re looking forward to meeting the Chattanooga Pro Soccer team, learning more about their vision and welcoming them to Chattanooga.”
The Chattanooga Football Club, an amateur team that competes in the National Premier Soccer League, currently plays at Finley and has a contract through the end of September.
USL Division III last week announced it has awarded a founding member franchise to an organization led by business executive Robert “Bob” Martino for the league’s 2019 debut season. The USL Division III is a higher division of U.S. soccer than the NPSL.
News of the pro team prompted discussion about whether the city would support two teams and where each club would play.
Discussions about the Finley Stadium contracts haven’t happened yet, but will soon, Thomas said.
“The news caught us by surprise, too,” he said.
Although some have suggested that both teams could use Finley Stadium, the club’s new interim General Manager Sheldon Grizzle said it’s his understanding that USL doesn’t allow stadium-sharing with teams in different leagues.
And there’s another conflict because both teams play on Saturday nights, he said.
“This is a topic that we’ve studied extensively and it would be difficult for one club to survive at that level, much less two,” he said via email.
The Chattanooga Football Club has a contract with the stadium that expires at the end of September.
“We have heard a lot of rumors that discussions have happened between Finley and the USL group but officials at Finley have told us that there is no contract in place,” Grizzle said.
The contract, at least in part, is based on CFC’s previous year. In the beginning, CFC represented a few thousand dollars of revenue for Finley, but not it’s hundreds of thousands, he said.
CFC has played at Finley for 10 seasons, and the team’s founders wanted to play there because when the franchise started, the stadium was underutilized, he said.
“Our hope was that we could help breathe new life into the stadium as we grew. That’s exactly what we’ve done,” he also said. “For the several years in a row, we’ve helped put Finley in the black to the point that the city and the county have not had to subsidize its bottom line.”
Finley is the CFC’s home, and the team’s leaders are looking to keep it that way.
“Our primary concern is securing Finley as our home once again under reasonable contract terms for the foreseeable future,” Grizzle said.
When the new pro team announced it’s entry into the market, the statement included mention of several prominent Chattanooga businesses and brands, including Unum and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
The CFC’s fan club The Chattahooligans tweeted to the companies asking if they were affiliated with the new team.
Hi, Chattahooligans. Thanks for reaching out. We’ve had no contact with this new club. We understand the release lists BCBST as an area employer, not a sponsor.
— BlueCross TN News (@BlueCrossTnNews) August 2, 2018
Good morning, Chattahooligans. Thanks for your question. Like BCBSTN, we haven't been contacted by this new club. We're a company listed in the release, but not a sponsor.
— Unum (@unumnews) August 3, 2018
Pls RT https://t.co/YWhryt6rCR
— 𝖈𝖍𝖆𝖙𝖙𝖆𝖍𝖔𝖔𝖑𝖎𝖌𝖆𝖓𝖘 (@chattahooligan) August 3, 2018
And the Tennessee Aquarium showed its support for the team.
— Tennessee Aquarium (@TNAquarium) August 2, 2018
Roll that beautiful bean footage
— 𝖈𝖍𝖆𝖙𝖙𝖆𝖍𝖔𝖔𝖑𝖎𝖌𝖆𝖓𝖘 (@chattahooligan) August 4, 2018
The news about the pro soccer team coming started July 28 when CFC tweeted about the resignation of Chattanooga Football Club’s General Manager Sean McDaniel.
Along with that information, they tweeted that an out-of-town investor has secured the rights to bring a United Soccer League Division III team here.
CFC board member Bill Nuttall also resigned and the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that he could be a part of the new pro team. Grizzle said this weekend that when he resigned, McDaniel said he’d been approached about working with the new prospective club, but he doesn’t know any more information than that.
The official announcement from the USL came last Aug. 1 in the form of a news release, which Nooga.com posted in its entirety.
After catching some people off guard, the announcement prompted pushback from CFC’s passionate fan base, many of whom don’t want a USL team to come here. The fear, at least in part, is that the new team will put CFC out of business or somehow change what has been slowly built over 10 years.
As the news about the new team broke, CFC Chairman Tim Kelly reacted on social media and told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that joining the USL team doesn’t reflect CFC’s values and that CFC’s leaders have made the conscious decision not move the team to USL Division III.
Kelly said that CFC leaders have been working with the NPSL to grow the league with a longer season.
The National Premier Soccer League also weighed in reiterating its “unwavering” support of CFC and its supporters.
The new team
Officials with the USL Division III team said they will provide fans with top-tier professional soccer and that the new team will bring national media awareness to Chattanooga.
It will also bring at last 40 jobs, officials said.
“The professional USL Division III provides a great platform for Chattanooga to enter the highest ranks of soccer and further strengthens the Southeast region for the new league as we put the final touches on our exciting inaugural season,” Senior Vice President of USL Division III Steven Short said in a prepared statement.
Martino said the Chattanooga market has proved it has what’s needed to start and sustain a professional franchise.
He also gave a nod to the CFC founders and fans.
“I applaud the existing grass roots support and passionate fan base already in place in the city, and I welcome the opportunity for us to work together to realize the great vision for professional soccer in Chattanooga,” he said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to build upon the remarkable soccer history that has been created here, and establish a professional club of which both fans and our community can be proud – one that will make a lasting contribution to what makes this city great.”