Football championship teams earn 54% less despite record Mercedes-Benz attendance

Cedar Grove center Javon Braden (76) prepares to snap the ball before an offensive play against Savannah Christian in the Class 3A GHSA State Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Wednesday, December. 13, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /



Cedar Grove center Javon Braden (76) prepares to snap the ball before an offensive play against Savannah Christian in the Class 3A GHSA State Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Wednesday, December. 13, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Football teams playing in the state championship games earned 54% less on average despite record attendance in the return to the more expensive Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December, GHSA records show.

The 16 finalists’ average disbursement was $9,795 compared to $21,068 in 2022. Class 7A schools Walton and Milton earned just more than $14,100. The lowest payout was Class A Prince Avenue Christian’s $5,607.

From rent and facility fees, Mercedes-Benz got $582,520 of the event’s $983,820 revenue. In 2022, Georgia State got $157,766 of the $663,805 revenue at Center Parc Stadium.

Attendance for the three days topped 50,000, and the paid count was 49,126, or 50% higher than the 2022 paid total of 32,766 at Georgia State. The previous record for paid attendance was 47,922 in 2016 at the Georgia Dome.

“Clearly the cost of a facility like Mercedes-Benz is going to be more, but what can’t be lost on anyone is the experience that’s provided to the student athletes and those schools and communities to participate in the premier venue in the country,’’ GHSA executive director Robin Hines said. “As always, we’ve already had several meetings to review the process, and we’re looking at ways to cut costs and increase what goes back to the schools.’’

Coaches’ opinions varied.

Bowdon’s Rich Fendley, whose team won Class A Division II titles in 2023 and 2022, said his school made four times as much in the semifinals, played on his home field, than the $5,872 he got from the 2023 championship game.

‘’This is probably the sentiment of every coach that’s played last few years, and it’s that all of us would rather play at a home venue because we all lose money,” Fendley said. “Yeah, it’s exciting, it’s awesome to play in that venue, the kids love it, the fans love it, but when you get back and have to pay your own officials for the year, and the reconditioning you have to do, and buy 10 new helmets and 10 new sets of shoulder pads, all the expenses, you really would like to find a way to make a bigger paycheck when you play for a state championship.”

Swainsboro’s Scott Roberts, another coach whose school played in the 2022 and 2023 finals, saw pros and cons to the move to Mercedes-Benz. His school made $6,202 at Mercedes-Benz and $13,420 at Georgia State.

“I enjoyed the atmosphere at both stadiums, but we had good weather the night we played at Georgia State,’’ said Roberts, pointing out that rain might’ve dampened the GSU experience whereas Mercedes-Benz is a domed stadium. “Obviously, the money is nice, but if we have a chance to play in that game, I really don’t care where it is. Of course, I understand there is a big difference [weather-wise] if you are a spectator.”

Roberts and Pierce County coach Ryan Herring, whose team won the Class 2A title, hoped the Atlanta Falcons and the GHSA would negotiate a better deal with the Atlanta Falcons.

“We loved playing in the Benz,” Herring said. “We just didn’t get a good payout at all.’’

Milton coach Ben Reaves, whose team defeated Walton for the Class 7A championship, defended the choice of Mercedes-Benz. He’s been on Milton’s staff for state finals in 2018, 2021 and 2023. Milton got $14,135 from the 2023 finals.

“After playing two in the Benz and one at Georgia State, I would call playing at the Benz priceless,’’ Reaves said. “It’s a shame the schools don’t get more of a cut, especially with record-breaking attendance, but playing inside the Benz enhances everything about the experience in my opinion and should continue regardless of ticket money allocation.’’

GHSA bylaws call for the GHSA to receive 12% of total income before expenses. So GHSA actually got more this year, making $118,058 from $78,656 in 2022. The schools’ payouts, also dictated by GHSA bylaws, are a percentage of income after expenses. It ranges from 17.5% in Class 7A to 8% in Class A.

Inflation and the implementation of video review also added to expenses. Video review costs came to $11,123, which included the August trial run at Mercedes-Benz during the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic. Costs for supplies, programs, video production and the staging of the three flag football finals also rose.

“You can’t discount the fact that inflation has hit us all, no question,” Hines said. “All have to do is go to grocery today and see that’s an issue.’’

Mercedes-Benz got $3 per ticket sold compared to Georgia State’s $1-per-ticket charge, which also cut into net profits. The GHSA’s three-year contract with Mercedes-Benz and the Falcons runs through the 2025 season.

“We’ll continue to work, and there are ways to cut further,” Hines said. “This was the first time we’ve come back under a new agreement [since the 2018 finals at Mercedes-Benz]. There’s a learning curve. We’re still excited to be there, and what an experience it was for those who got to play at that facility.’’

2023 payouts (including travel):

2022 payouts (including travel):

2023/2022 income/expenses: