GHSA considers moving football finals out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The high school football state championships, held on the Atlanta Falcons’ home fields since 2008, could be leaving Mercedes-Benz Stadium this fall.

“The cost of being at that venue was very expensive, and justifiably so,” Georgia High School Association executive director Robin Hines said Tuesday. “It’s a great venue. We just have to make a decision on whether we can afford it or not.”

Hines was to address the GHSA’s board of trustees later Tuesday to discuss the issue.

The finals were played at the Georgia Dome from 2008 to 2016 and moved to Mercedes-Benz Stadium after it opened in 2017. The GHSA paid roughly $600,000 last year to stage the eight games over two days at Mercedes-Benz — about twice what it cost to secure the Georgia Dome, according to Hines.

“The main focus is for us to provide a great venue for our student-athletes to play in, and it’s not going to be better anywhere other than Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but an important aspect too is the payout to the schools, especially in revenue-generating sports,” Hines said. “We don’t want our schools to lose money playing in a state championship game. We’re taking a look at that with the Mercedes-Benz staff and weighing all options to us.”

Hines declined to discuss negotiations with other venues, but the most practical alternative is Georgia State Stadium, the former Turner Field south of downtown Atlanta. Georgia State has actively pursued high school games and other events and has been the site for several Corky Kell Classic high school football games the past two seasons.

Georgia State Stadium’s capacity is 24,333. Attendance for the state finals in 2018 was 40,463, but that was spread over two days and eight games.

Attendance was down 15.5 percent last season largely because of the forced moved to mid-week games to accommodate Atlanta United, which made the MLS finals on the originally scheduled weekend. In 2016, when the games were played as scheduled on a Friday and Saturday, the attendance was 47,922. Several of the 2017 finals, the first scheduled for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, were postponed and moved to high school venues because of a winter storm.

The only other stadiums in Georgia with capacity of more than 20,000 are Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia’s Sanford Stadium and Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium. Leaving Mercedes-Benz would put the finals outdoors, making weather an issue. The 2019 finals are scheduled for Dec. 13 and Dec. 14.

The GHSA is not considering a return to participating schools playing host to games on their home fields, Hines said. The move to the Georgia Dome in 2008 began a tradition of neutral-site championship games that the GHSA plans to maintain.

Hines said that the GHSA board would make no decision at their meeting Tuesday in Thomaston.

“Nothing is finalized,” Hines said. “I just want to fill them in on where we are and what the financial situation is and get some input from them before we move further. We’re in the process of evaluating everything. We’re going to look at several different venues as well as Mercedes-Benz.”