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.
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.