Millions generated by state title games in Georgia Dome

Reaching a state championship game at the Georgia Dome can produce a big payday for a high school athletic program.

Reaching a state championship game at the Georgia Dome can produce a big payday for a high school athletic program.

By David Purdum / For the AJC

Clinch County received a $30,198.18 check from the Georgia High School Association for its appearance in the 2010 Class A championship football game at the Georgia Dome.

The windfall doubled the South Georgia school’s athletic budget, according to athletic director Winston Peterson.

But was it a fair share?

This is the fifth year state championship games will be held in the Georgia Dome. Semifinal games were held in the Georgia Dome for years, with championship games taking place at school sites. The GHSA adjusted the format in 2008 and has seen mixed results and reactions.

“We’re very pleased with the attendance that we’ve been having, and I think the schools for the most part are happy with the paydays that they’ve gotten,” GHSA executive director Dr. Ralph Swearngin said last week. “Most of the people who really don’t like it are people from the general public from outside metro Atlanta, who think they should have the state championship game in their hometown. But we’re going through some real struggles this week. Some schools are having to pay to have professional seating brought in (for semifinal games) so their stadiums can meet the guidelines. There are a lot of places that couldn’t host these playoff games if we were back at the schools.”

Rising travel expenses also are cutting championship game profits significantly for schools outside of the metro area.

Teams are compensated $5-per-mile, one way, for travel expenses by the GHSA. Clinch County received $1,720 for travel expenses for its trip to the Georgia Dome in 2010. Peterson estimates the 254-mile overnight trip from South Georgia cost $12,000. That left a little more than $10,000—a third of their check — in leftover travel expenses for the school to pick up. The total take-home dropped to less than $20,000.

“For the kids, it’s a very big deal for them to get to go play on the grand stage of the Georgia Dome,” Peterson said. “As far as us getting up there and all the logistics to it, it’s difficult.”

Camden County athletic director Gary Blount told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it costs “$24,000 to $28,000” to make an overnight team trip to Atlanta from Kingsland on the Georgia coast. Camden County received $1,690 for 338-mile trip to the 2009 championship game. The Wildcats received $53,367 from gate revenue.

Metro schools obviously don’t have those concerns. Some area teams have a pregame meal at home, hop in a bus for a 20-minute ride to the Georgia Dome and are back at home in time for dinner. Travel costs are minimal.


Money matters

The state championship games at the Georgia Dome have generated $2.06 million in gate revenue the previous three years, according to information obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the GHSA through an open records request.

The GHSA receives 12 percent of the gross receipts, a percentage that has not changed since Swearngin took over as executive director in 1992 and one he says is lower than surrounding states.

It costs the GHSA $50,000 to rent the Georgia Dome for two days during the championship games. The ticket office, staffing, contract services, printing, public address announcer and GHSA Dome workers are added expenses of more than $100,000.

Overall, moving the title games from school sites to the Georgia Dome has produced varying financial results.

Buford hosted a state championship game against Lovett in 2007, the last year title games were held at schools, and each school received close to $22,000. In 2010, Buford played Calhoun in the Class AA state championship game in the Georgia Dome and took home $39,535.

The payout for the two teams in the 2011 Class AAAAA state championship game, Walton and Grayson, was the same as it was for North Gwinnett and Lowndes in the 2007 AAAAA title game played at Lowndes home stadium.

The gross receipts from the 10 semifinal games played at the Georgia Dome in 2007 totaled $854,520.

In the last three years, the five state championship games in the Georgia Dome have produced an average of $657,361 in gross receipts. This year, with the addition of Class AAAAAA and the public-private split of Class A, there will be seven championship games, with three games on Friday and four on Saturday.

To make up for the fewer games, playoff ticket prices have increased. This season second-round playoff tickets jumped from $8 to $12; semifinals increased from $10-$15. Presale championship games tickets increased from $15 to $18, while door prices remain at $20.

“Our school people were the ones who said we need to raise the ticket prices at every level of the playoffs so we can continue to make ends meet,” Swearngin said. “The catch-22 is that we have the general public that finds it harder and harder to pay these prices. I’m pretty sure this April we’re going to have a discussion about what we can do to make it better for both the general public and our schools.”

Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell, a 40-year veteran, isn’t a fan of the ticket increase.

“Ticket prices right now are hurting gates more than they’re helping,” he said.

51 comments Add your comment


December 10th, 2012
9:59 am

One complaint…schools having to spend the night should be compensated at a higher level than those schools not having to spend the night. Hotel rooms and meals take a huge bit out of the normal compensation for playing in the dome. A simple solution could be for GHSA to contract with a couple of hotels to house those teams having to drive say 150 miles (or a traveling distance determined to be fair by GHSA).


December 10th, 2012
12:41 pm

too bad they stick half lf the basketball final 4 all the way down in crappy macon where no one gets to see it. gotta love ghsa…aka..gfhsa (Georgia Football High School Association)


December 10th, 2012
1:21 pm

Good point bdawg, teams that have to stay overnight should be compensated more. In Texas they always have quarterfinal and semifinals at a neutral site and finals at Cowboys Stadium(Jerry World). GA should look at playing quarters and semis at neutral sites so that both teams be experience the same conditions and keep the finals at the dome.


December 10th, 2012
1:40 pm

Looking at the teams in the finals this year, looks like the Dome may be about 30% full at any given time, if that. The South GA teams are well-known for taking big crowds, but there’s only two small S GA teams going this year, Dooly County (Vienna) and Ware County(yep WAY down there, won’t be a lot going). You don’t have the Warner Robins, Valdostas, Colquitt Co’s, Camdens, etc., so it’s mostly a North GA “thang” this year. Good luck with that. As noted by Norcross home side not even being full last week, most N GA schools don’t turn out well.


December 10th, 2012
1:52 pm

Clearing $10k for a Championship game appearance is very good for a High School program. $20k is outstanding. Beats the crap out of bake sales and selling mag subscriptions. The traveling schools should get additional consideration but this is really about the kids and the fans competing and enjoying successful seasons.

Congrats to all the kids, coaches and supporters who made it this far – have fun this Championship weekend!

H.S. Football brings communities together – doesn’t matter if you’re big city or country.


December 10th, 2012
2:06 pm

I understand the fun of playing in the Georgia Dome and all that, but it doesn’t seem right that a community outside of Atlanta loses the opportunity to rent out all those hotel rooms, fill their restaurants, and generate sales tax revenue. There are alot of local mom and pop businesses supporting their local team that get left out in the cold so that money can go to Atlanta.


December 10th, 2012
2:29 pm

Eliminate the stupid rule that makes schools bring in portable seating for semifinal games if your stadium doesnt have a certain number of seats. Sandy Creek just spent $11k for bleachers last weeks game that probably had 20 people sitting in them. Too many other things that money could pay for. One solution is to have neutral sites for semifinal games. Let’s say Sandy Creek won the toss for home field advantage, then they could arrange to play the game at Tara Stadium or somewhere within reasonable distance with ample seating. If Monroe Area had won the toss, then use a neutral site nearer to them.


December 10th, 2012
2:53 pm

AthenBBall: The reason that basketball finals are played in Macon is for a number of reasons. Population and location are ideal. Since Augusta and Savannah are so far East and Columbus is so far West, Athens (your city) is too far north that many schools that already complain about coming to Atlanta would really complain about Athens, so the next largest city (Outside of Sandy Springs) is Macon. Secondly they have large enough venue dedicated to the sport. Ultimately, the reason it’s not held in the Phillips Arena is because the NBA is still going on and could possible conflict in schedule. There are no NFL games of Friday and Saturday


December 10th, 2012
3:07 pm

@lhsalum….what makes macon an ideal location for basketball but not for football? i dont get your argument. i was suggesting we play the basketball finals in the atlanta area too…gwinnett arena maybe?


December 10th, 2012
3:09 pm

GHSA executive director Dr. Ralph Swearngin said last week. “Most of the people who really don’t like it are people from the general public from outside metro Atlanta, who think they should have the state championship game in their hometown. But we’re going through some real struggles this week.

well that just about sums it all up right there. as long as the money keeps coming in ralph will keep right on playing those games in downtown atlanta. answer me this if playing games at the dome is all about the kids why dont you move the dome games back to the semifinals. if you do this twice as many kids get to play in the dome twice as much gate can be brought in all during the same 2 day period.

then the finals can be played at the higher seeds home field. remove all these restrictions about seating limits they are silly and are never enforced so why have them.

this is all about money has nothing to do with the kids regardless of what ralph says.

perfect case would be

what if lowndes and valdosta made it through the tournament and into the finals do you really think they want to go to atlanta and play for the title.

now on the otherhand if norcross and lovejoy want to go to atlanta and play thats their business.

just look at what ralph was quoting as saying and you can see that he has no concern for what other people outside of where his money is coming from think about the arrangements that have been made.

its time for some changing to be done with this format.


December 10th, 2012
3:12 pm

I agree @badbrad because Lovejoy did the same thing. We rented an extra 4500 seats an none one sat in them a waste of county money. We did the same thing last year.

Yeh Right....

December 10th, 2012
3:32 pm

If it weren’t in Atlanta, where would it be? Valdosta? Columbus? Augusta? Savannah? It doesn’t matter where its held…not everyone is going to be happy. Like it or not, Atlanta is the capital of GA. This is a once in a lifetime experience for these kids. Some will never step on a field again unless their son happens to play, so what better way to end a career than at the GA Dome?!!! Let them have this moment..and don’t tell me the communities can’t afford it and all of the crap the coach from Lincoln will cry about! I haven’t seen many of these teams want for much of anything! Get a life…this is for the players..not you!


December 10th, 2012
3:34 pm

packerhart89—Ive said it time and again, that playing a title game in a hometown, even if its not YOUR stadium, is, in my opinion, the most exciting memory of a high school football career. I know when we won state in 91, and had to go to colquitt county, the CLOSE PROXIMITY of the sellout crowd adds to the excitement of the game. When I am watching the games at the dome, again, in my opinion, you dont get that, which is a big shame that the GHSA sacrifices not only great memories of great GA football players, but the hometowns whose teams make it to the title game. SO WHAT they may have to bring in bleachers. How bout the GHSA use some of those millions and help said schools UPGRADE their facilities. HMMM thats a thought!!!! And like someone said, if youre worried about kids having the experience of planying on the “biggest stage,” go back to having the semis in the dome!

The Cross

December 10th, 2012
3:47 pm

Dumb-ass-Every [ost I read of yours is either idiotic or outright fabrication. Norcross home side was filled last week…Colquitt County certainly did not bring the 3,000 in tix that they ask for. It is like you guys want to take pride in something that does not exist. Gwinnett football is supported both with the booster clubs and in attendance. That is why we are superior to the South georgia programs. If you have not noticed a Norcross win will make it 3 in a row for Georgia’s highest classification. You obviously weren’t there last week, because we were cramped trying to fit people into seats.

The Cross

Sandy Creek Authority

December 10th, 2012
3:55 pm

If you give Per-Diem to teams that stay overnight, count us in, we will stay overnight. Maybe two nights if the money is good. You can keep the trophy, pay us the money, we have a rental bleacher loan to pay off.

Sandy Creek Authority

December 10th, 2012
4:03 pm

I was wondering why we couldn’t move the bleachers from our baseball field, maybe move some from the middle school over here for the game. Why did we have to rent them, the county has plenty? I think we wasted all this money to win a pissing contest.

We would have won if we let them host and spent the money.

the truth

December 10th, 2012
4:05 pm

The finals at local stadiums was outdated. High school football has hit the big time and needed to be moved to the best facility available. The only exception I would have for this is class A public schools. They are the ones that struggle the most with costs. However, I am sure a football tradition school like Lincoln County have large enough booster clubs big enough to cover costs.
If communities in S. Georgia want to host the final they need to think outside the box…build a stadium big enough to handle it. Imagine if the City of Valdosta would have thought outside of the box and built a new stadium for Valdosta and Valdosta St. that seated 30-40 thousand. Sure, it would have been over kill for a high school and Div II university but it would have been perfect to host the finals.
I really think from GHSA side, they have a pretty good deal with the Dome to host the finals and the attendance even with the games broadcast live by GPB is a testament to the love of high school in GA. Louisiana just completed their finals in the Superdome but there was no live broadcast on TV of the games. Due to attendance in previous years, the games are taped and broadcast at a later date.


December 10th, 2012
4:19 pm

Championship games are played at pre-determined sites, it’s not like you find out at the last minute the game is at the GA Dome. Prepare ahead.


December 10th, 2012
4:46 pm

@ Dum-Bass not all North GA schools are the same… but the main reason why alot of South Ga schools have big turnouts is b/c most of those schools are COUNTY schools where most of the COUNTY attends… schools up this way have at least 3 different schools in the COUNTY at least. sort of like how pretty much ALL of Gainesville would be at the Dome Friday if both North Hall and Gainesville won… but we only got one team left in it… *kanyeshrug*



December 10th, 2012
5:09 pm

Sandy Creek or any school without enough seating can choose to hold the game at another stadium of their choosing instead of bringing in temporary seating. When the minimum seating requirement was in force for earlier round games as well as semifinal games a few years ago, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe moved a home playoff game to the stadium at UT Chattanooga. A Class A game four or five years ago was moved to Cordele, which was the nearest community with an adequate stadium. No one forced Sandy Creek to spend $11,000 for temporary seating. That was their choice and their burden.

As far as having the state basketball tournament in Macon is concerned, it is at most a 90 minute drive–and even less for south metro counties–for most fans from Atlanta. That is the same length drive fans in much of rural Georgia make for an average regular season road game. Having the games in Macon doesn’t keep anybody from attending.


December 10th, 2012
5:44 pm

Hey DUM-BASS,,The Norcross side was just shy of standing room only last week! Were you even there? I WAS,,, NORCROSS IS KICKING DAT ASS !!!!

Norcross '97

December 10th, 2012
6:14 pm

I live in TX now so I don’t know this, but are the high school finals televised? If so, that should bring a lot of revenue in for the GHSAA. Three years ago the TX version of the GHSAA, the UIL, mandated that all state final games be played at a specific stadium (the first year at Reliant Stadium in Houston, this year at Jerry World in Arlington). Their argument was that by having the games at a professional stadium, it would be better for those who could not make it to watch it on TV. Now, that is true, but they also included a lucrative TV deal with Fox Sports, so they are raking in the money.

Don’t know if the GHSAA is doing that, but they need to be.

Go Devils!

HSFB Follower

December 10th, 2012
6:22 pm

The format is just fine…home games until the finals then the Dome host everybody. I understand the issue that South Georgia has with travel I do but playing in the Dome is something those kids will never forget and plus ALL of the games are in one place and it SHOWCASES the depth and talent of HSFB in the STATE OF GEORGIA. As far as the seating goes, heck if you have to do what you have to do to meet the seating requirement then that is what you have to do. I hope the championship games never go back to home sites. And dare we compare GA to TX, I love GA HSFB ball but the reason the quarterfinal and semifinals are held at neutral sites in TX is because NOBODY has a campus stadium (outside of Allen HS) big enough to hold those crowds! Ya see out there THEY COME to the games tv/internet/radio/their team/not their team THEY ARE COMING. Not the case in Georgia and Florida is even worse sadly. South Carolina crowds were pretty good 2 weeks ago at Williams-Brice and Alabama had 36k for their 6A title game at Auburn Jordan Hare Stadium.

And what really cracks me up is folks complain about $20 at the gate…wait $20 to watch 4 football games, sounds like a pretty good deal to me, stop getting up and leaving after “your team” has played. or $40 for 7 games over 2 days, not too shabby! Enjoy the talent over every class in one place and GREAT state for HSFB in this country.


December 10th, 2012
7:40 pm

Enter your comments here


December 10th, 2012
7:55 pm

@HSFB Follower…the neutral sites that I was referring to in TX are high school venues, check out the berry center, or bisd thomas center great high school stadiums

The voice

December 10th, 2012
8:45 pm

The move to the Dome only lines the pockets of the Atlanta area merchants and GHSA. The finals should be at the respective local team’s stadiums. But who could ever expect a change from anything involving rich folks wanting to make more money (See new Stadium in Atlanta and tear down of 20 year old Georgia dome). Waste… Waste …Waste

The voice

December 10th, 2012
8:49 pm

@HSFB Follower maybe her in ole poor Georgia we like our hometown atmosphere?

The voice

December 10th, 2012
8:49 pm


December 10th, 2012
9:34 pm

if the money starts drying up from the finals at the dome they will go back. and yes if your stadium does not have the seats go to the nearest neutral site. Still closer than driving all the way to Atlanta from way down south.


December 10th, 2012
10:45 pm

The finals should be playing in the Dome. Too bad South GA you had your chance to make it to the dome. It’s great to play the Championship game on a neutral site because South GA always cheats north and central GA out Championships when they were played down there anyway. Every kid dreams of playing in the Dome. For you Dumb Bass, you are a Dumb # ss for saying that the turn out won’t be as good. Each team will bring a big crowd as well the surrounding counties that have jumped on the bandwagon.


December 10th, 2012
11:22 pm

@The Cross and @norcrossdawg – I was at the game and the home side was about 7/8 full. I was between the 35 and 40 on the end away from the scoreboard about 8 or 9 rows up and there was plenty of room. The section to my left closer to the end zone was only about 1/2 full. I couldn’t see the end near the scoreboard so I don’t know if it was the same down there. Yes, there were some people standing at the fence on my end but that was by choice not necessity. The center section up high WAS packed but down around me, no so much. It was a good crowd but not anywhere close to standing room only, at least not if you really wanted a seat.


December 10th, 2012
11:28 pm

Our state is too big and the distances too great to make everyone happy. 60%+ of the population is in the metro area. If the Dome is 30% full then there are 22k people there. That’s a pretty good crowd in my opinion.


December 10th, 2012
11:51 pm

I bet those kids love playing in the Dome. They get to see a glimpse of he city. Take it from me its probably like going to Paris for some of those kids. If you live south GA this might be your only trip to the city.


December 11th, 2012
12:01 am

If you honestly think every kid dreams of playing in the dome, you don’t know very many kids from successful high school programs. I can’t stand playing in the dome. I’ve played in the dome three times in the playoffs, winning two state titles and none of those games are as memorable as some of the wins we had traveling to the Atlanta area. You can’t celebrate with your fans after the game and you have a limited amount of time after winning and than you’re rushed off the field. Saddest excuse for a championship game that the GHSA could have thought of. I like a rotating system, where championship games are rotated throughout the state’s larger stadiums. One division plays in Macon while another is playing in Savannah or Augusta. Just anywhere but the dome.


December 11th, 2012
7:23 am

Not mentioned in the article is that when Buford played Lovett in the State Championship in 2007, ticket prices were a lot lower. THAT caused the discrepancy, not the dome. King Ralph wants you to think otherwise so they can keep it in the dome. If the ticket prices were 18-20.00 a head back then, the gate would have been more than the dome.
The Atlanta schools want the championships in the dome. Rural and South Ga don’t. It’s that simple. We are out voted by metro Atlanta on everything. That bull about the stadiums not holding enough is just that….BULL.


December 11th, 2012
7:58 am

There is nothing so simple as finding a bigger place to play close by if your stadium is too small. It is probably cheaper to do that than bring in stands and lose money on the deal.
I live in metro Atlanta and will take the train to the games I won’t spend money in Atlanta that day except for my ticket. If the games were seperated and say one is in Statesboro you are only going to get a certain number of people. Where as the DOME you will get someone like me who wants to see a couple games and not deal with the terrible GPB commericals. Ralph is is doing the math although it is a little skewed. Semis and finals in the DOME Ralphie boy is the way to go. Take @Freds math it works. Doen’t make sense to have the semis away from the DOME.
Look at Ohio, neutral sites after the first round and heck they are outdoors where it is a little colder and has snowed a couple times as I recall. If it was raining would you travel to Macon to see a game you had no one playing in? I think not.

Big Blue Class of '08

December 11th, 2012
9:03 am

@athensbball…. they do play the basketball finals at the gwinnett arena…

Big Blue Class of '08

December 11th, 2012
9:05 am

@athensbball,… its been a while since i went to a bbfinal… did they change and move it from the gwinnett arena to macon? when norcross won in 08/11 it was at gwinnett arena


December 11th, 2012
9:09 am

I like the games being played in the dome. I support the Ware County Gators and I live in Florida. I have traveled to Atlanta to watch finals even when my team wasn’t in the dome because it’s a chance to see all the classifications play in one weekend. I’m driving up Friday morning with my college age son and several of his buddies. I would rather travel to Atlanta and sit in a nice climate control dome than drive to Macon or wherever and sit in the rain. I think Atlanta needs to do even more to get the local crowds out the to stadium. Even having 5,000 to 6,000 more in attendance for each game is big. They could have some Georgia Bulldogs & Yellow Jackets signing autographs, parents would bring their kids for this. They could do some promotions such as if you bring your program from your local football team you could trade in for a ticket to win a chance at a free cruise for 4. They could bring in some Falcons for a meet & greet. Whatever it takes to help fill the stands. The teams that are in the finals are going to bring their fan base, it’s the locals and metro area fans that have to push it over the top.


December 11th, 2012
9:39 am

You could always use those great stadiums in DeKalb Co.! It wouldn’t cost as much,except the kick backs and other corrupt charges. Of course your car insurance will go up after making a claim for thefts.

Wolves fan

December 11th, 2012
10:40 am

We should make Arthur Blank and the Falcons pony up $$ for the High School games for the finals. He wants our $$ for a new stadium then he should fully support the year ending final tourney and let the schools keep 100 %


December 11th, 2012
10:46 am

@ Big Blue….they only let the AAAA and AAAAA schools play in gwinnett. they send all the other classes down to macon…i think they should all be in gwinnett arena


December 11th, 2012
11:58 am

Norcross ‘97: Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) broadcasts the football & basketball state championships & does a decent job (maybe a GREAT job as Gil Tyree would say!). Please don’t let FOX sports or any of the other networks have the games. They’ll only commercialize them & put their emphasis on making money. I kind of like GPB’s lower key, home-spun approach of making it all about the kids & the schools. Now if GPB would only do away with the cooking show segments they try to do during their broadcasts of football.


December 11th, 2012
12:02 pm

Macon has always been a good venue for the lower classifications in basketball…was much better when they played in the old coliseum downtown …now that was a venue……..Buford girls played there a few time in the 60’s (before I-75) and stopping off at the Open Air BBQ in Jackson was a treat that we still enjoy today…….Macon is better than Savannah


December 11th, 2012
1:17 pm

wolfbait67……it’s Fresh Air BBQ!! Great Food!


December 11th, 2012
5:38 pm

It’s really kind of unbelievable that there’s not a topic about any of the teams playing in the Championship games……There are more topics about basketball than State Championship Football. You would think that since both teams representing the largest classification in the Title game are from the Atlanta Area, there would be profiles on the schools, student athletes and their respective programs. What’s up with that? :-)


December 11th, 2012
8:53 pm



December 11th, 2012
11:15 pm

Plowboy-Viking: Thanks ,,,,,,and it ain’t bad……………..tastes that stew now


December 12th, 2012
12:56 am

I attended the Valwood GISA AA Championship Game at Valwood. The opponents, the Westwood Wildcats were very well represented and the excitement of playing such a game in local environs cannot be matched – for both players and fans. I remember the excitement in the highest classification in GHSA football championships when those were played at the home of highest seed of the two teams playing. I didn’t even like playing the semis in the Dome, but it was a good compromise. We should return to that format. If, in the championship game, the stadium of the higher seeded team did not meet minimal standards, it would their responsibility to bring in additional seating to satisfy the requirement, or find a suitable agreeable neutral site. There are pro and cons to that arrangement, but I believe all the pros would outweigh the cons, except that of Mr. Swearngin.


December 12th, 2012
1:35 am

Hate to be the one to say it but did anyone noticed the cover photo for this article? the one on the main page with all the kids painted “WE love DOME”. lol Did the AJC just get out smarted by some High school kids?