Sharing the wealth

Tornadoes, Rebels reach landmark deal to share gate

Maryville’s big Nike deal isn’t a blank check.

Alcoa’s dominance of Class 2A football the last five years has put a real hurt on gate receipts for home games.

The athletic departments at both schools still depend heavily on the money coming in when its their turn to host one of the state’s oldest high school football rivalries. Earlier this week, Alcoa athletics director Josh Stephens and Maryville counterpart George Quarles finalized a deal to offset the shortfall when the game is at the other school, reaching an agreement to split the gate 50-50 beginning next season.

Considering the current economic climate, the landmark contract may not be a rarity for very long.

“It was something we’d talked about for a while,” Quarles said. “The rivalry has been good for both of us financially. I think they wanted a little more stability.”

Alcoa won a record fifth consecutive 2A championship last December in Murfreesboro. During the run, the Tornadoes have laid waste to much of its in-classification competition, resulting in sparse crowds in the visiting stands for home games. In years the big game is at Maryville’s Shields Stadium, the Tornadoes get nothing financially from a celebrated rivalry that annually draws in excess of 10,000 fans.

The crowds are no different when the game’s at Alcoa Goddard Field.

“The same crowds that are coming to Maryville are coming to Alcoa,” Stephens said. “They’re going to bring their fans, and we’re going to bring our fans.”

With the cost of funding high school athletics only going up and with school system funding for sports are very real concern in coming years, the new agreement means neither school is left out in the cold when its the other team’s year to host, Stephens said.

“If you’re splitting that, it’s a lot easier to manage the budget,” Stephens said. “I just think it’s of great benefit for both schools. Publicly, this shows the support for both schools, by both schools.”

Key in the deal was how to handle season tickets at Maryville and all-sports passes within the Alcoa system. Both schools set the limits for season tickets and passes within the agreement at levels higher than the current sales, leaving those revenue sources unaffected.

Funding for athletics is a concern even for schools like Maryville, whose sports teams consistently rank among the state’s best. The football Rebels won a state record 74 consecutive games over the last five years, a run encompassing four consecutive Class 4A championships that prompted sports apparel giant Nike to make Maryville the company’s only corporate-sponsored high school in Tennessee.

The Nike sponsorship - largely the work of former Maryville athletics director Jerry Thompson, Quarles said - entitles Maryville sports teams to retail credits for Swoosh apparel - after first purchasing Nike jerseys. The sponsorship is a big help, Quarles said. It is not a free ride.

“The perception is we get money from Nike,” Quarles said, “and that’s just not the case.”

The idea for the agreement with the Rebels came about during a round of golf with Quarles, Stephens said.

“It all started with us just kidding around on the golf course or wherever,” he said.

The novel approach in helping to balance their athletic budgets gained traction after Stephens put forth an offer the Rebels couldn’t refuse, Quarles said.

“It wasn’t very hard to negotiate,” he said. “It was very fair. It was not tough to do. Nobody’s losing money on this thing. I don’t want people to think we’re giving Alcoa our money.”

His friendship and a strong working relationship with Quarles made the deal possible, Stephens said, but make no mistake who he’ll be rooting for when the Rebels visit Goddard FIeld in Week 1 this fall.

Financial realities are one thing.

“I hope Maryville wins every game but one,” Stephens said, “and I’m sure (Quarles) feels the same way.”

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