By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
GHSA's Robin Hines: Georgia State Stadium move for football championships gives best 'financial benefit' for member schools
Georgia State Football Stadium
The Georgia State football stadium, converted from Turner Field, the former home of the Atlanta Braves, will become the new home for GHSA state championship football games in 2019. -photo by Matthew Grimes

GHSA Member School Football Championship Payouts

Participants in GHSA state football championship games benefit from their competing in such games, win or lose. Here's a breakdown by classification of what the revenue payout percentage looks like for state championship games. 

Class 7A: 17.5% 

Class 6A & 5A: 15% 

Class 4A: 13% 

Class 3A: 12%

Class 2A: 11.5%

Class A Public: 8%

Class A Private: 8%

*Figures obtained from Section 5, page 64 of the GHSA Constitution and By-laws.

THOMASTON, Ga. — Just one day after announcing that the Georgia High School Association’s football state championships would be moved away from Mercedes Benz Stadium and into Georgia State Stadium — formerly Turner Field — GHSA executive director Robin Hines wanted to get one thing straight about the transition. 

That is, there are no sour tastes in mouths nor hurt feelings on either the GHSA’s part, or the powers that be who run Mercedes Benz Stadium. 

“I am in no means upset with the (Atlanta) Falcons or the Mercedes Benz people,” Hines said. “They’re all wonderful people, and they do a great job. The fact of the matter is it’s difficult to compare that facility to another facility. It’s obviously the premier venue, probably in the world at this time, and the cost of operating that venue is higher than anything we’ve experienced.” 

That price tag of $600,000 — more than double what it cost the GHSA to operate its football championship games in the old Georgia Dome — was a cost that Hines said just didn’t make financial sense to the GHSA or its member schools. 

“(The Mercedes Benz Stadium staff) has done their best to work with us,” Hines said. “There’s not a better guy on the planet than (Atlanta Falcons president and CEO) Rich McKay. But really, starting at the beginning, we knew that Mercedes Benz was going to cost more. We didn’t get a good view of the costs during the first year because of the winter weather. And even with that, the Mercedes Benz staff was good to us in cutting out as much as they could when we had to move those games. 

“We really are happy with the Mercedes Benz folks and the Falcons folks. It just came down to us living within our means and being good stewards over the GHSA’s money, which is key because the vast, vast majority of the money earned by these championships goes back to member schools.” 

And it’s that fact, Hines said, that drove the decision, perhaps more than anything, to relocate to a venue in Georgia State’s stadium that will be exponentially more cost effective.

According to the GHSA’s bylaws and constitution, championship football game payouts to member schools range from 17.5 percent of revenue doled out to Class AAAAAAA schools down to the eight percent payout that goes to both Class A Public and Private schools, respectively. 

Typically those payouts, especially to the larger classification schools, can be upwards of $45,000. Such was the case in the years before Mercedes Benz came along, and particularly in 2017 when six of the eight state championship games were played at schools’ home sites. 

Hines said the payout to the largest schools that year was around $47,000. In 2018, because of the hefty price tag to use Mercedes Benz Stadium, if the GHSA wouldn’t have gone into its own coffers to the tune of $250,000, the larger schools would’ve received a meager payout of just around $8,000 while Class A schools would’ve done well to get away with around $1,500. And even in 2017 when the GHSA only paid a fraction of the originally budgeted costs, thanks to those weather-related cancellations, Hines said things “still did not quite break even.”

“Taking care of the member schools is definitely the most important thing, and constantly having to pull money out of reserves in order to do that because of that hefty price tag at Mercedes Benz just wasn’t a smart way to go long term,” said Dr. Curt Miller, Class AAAAA Board of Trustee Representative and GHSA Reclassification Committee Chairman.

Hines agreed.

“That’s unacceptable on our end,” he said. “We did take out our own money to supplement those payouts to get them up too something that’s reasonable. And again, it’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that our schools play in those games and a big part of it is those games being financially beneficial to them. And certainly, our move to the Georgia State Stadium is going to financially benefit our participating schools greatly.” 

"This was an easy decision. It was a business decision. Everything is a consideration, but you do what it is that you need to do. You do what makes sense."
Dr. Robin Hines, Executive Director, GHSA
GSU the most sensible option 

In such situations, it’s a given that opinions about the best way to go would be plenteous.

From fans to coaches, players and school officials, the opinions on the GHSA move have run the gamut from enthusiastic agreement to offering up other neutral venues like UGA’s Sanford Stadium, Mercer’s football stadium or even Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium, to taking games back to home sites and even frustration that the Falcons didn’t offer up finances to keep the Mercedes Benz experience possible for GHSA football players. 

Hines said he’s heard and listened to all of the different angles, but he maintains the choice to switch to Georgia State was not a laborious one to make. 

“This was an easy decision, really,” Hines said. “It was a business decision. Everything is a consideration, but you do what it is that you need to do. You do what makes sense.” 

Hines said Georgia State made sense as a one-stop neutral site because of the logistics involved with trying to execute a multisite approach — whether that be eight different sites with the games being played at member schools’ stadiums, or spreading it around to the two or three larger college football stadiums across the state. 

Hines said neither of those options are nearly as easy or palatable to member schools as people may think.

“Two years ago when we had to play six games at home sites out of necessity, you had six schools who were happy and six schools that were very unhappy,” he said. “And honestly, the games have just about gotten too big for our home stadiums.” 

Hines also added that it would likely be “impossible to televise” all games if they’re played in various places, even during a two-day period. 

“Georgia Public Broadcasting doesn’t have the capacity to do multiple sites at a time with our broadcasting the games,” Hines said. “And we have a lot of sponsors that count on the exposure that the games bring. Having it at one site also allows us to manage the crowds where people won’t have to deal with standing-room-only situations which reduce the fan experience.” 

Mercedes Benz's 71,000-plus capacity structure dwarfs Georgia State Stadium’s 24,333 seats. But the smaller stadium could provide a fuller look and make for a better game atmosphere. 

Two-day state championship game attendances have hovered around the 45,000 mark over the last six years — an average of about 5,625 fans per game. And one of the complaints people have made regarding games in the Benz is how empty the stadium looks and feels on game day.

Also, the fact that Georgia State’s field is artificial turf whereas places like Bobby Dodd Stadium and Sanford Stadium are natural grass, likely held weight. The beating natural grass surfaces would take with so many games happening in a 24-hour period would make for major difficulties for grounds crew personnel, especially when considering the possible impact inclement weather would have on an outdoor stadium. 

“You just can’t play that many games on grass, no matter how well you work to keep it up,” Miller said. 

As for the widely voiced expectation that the Falcons’ organization should’ve ponied up the money to make it possible for the GHSA to keep the games at the Benz, Hines balks at the notion. 

“Some media and some posts I’ve seen that have been negative toward the Falcons, listen, it’s not fair to expect them to lose money on a facility,” he said. “It’s a business. They’re great people who do a super job. And who knows what the future holds.” 

‘Affordable Experience’ the main goal

One thing Georgia high school football fans likely won’t have to expect is a hike in championship game ticket prices in order to compensate for facility usage. In fact, Hines actually wants to see the opposite happen. 

“We as the GHSA are definitely not in a position to increase revenue by raising ticket prices,” he said. “In fact, I’d actually like to go the other way. I’d like to see a reduction in ticket prices over the coming years, even if it’s just incremental.” 

Currently, game tickets to GHSA playoff football games range from $8 for first round contests to $15 for semifinal games. And Hines’ strong disinterest in raising those prices is to keep in line with the GHSA’s overall mission. 

“I think it’s important for people to know and remember that we’re a non-profit organization, and our goal every year is to keep it at that,” Hines said. “We want to be good stewards of our money, and this year is the first time for as long as anyone can remember where the GHSA did not have a budget increase. What money is remaining in these championship games, after paying all the bills and all the overhead there is, every dollar that’s spent on the different things from staffing, security, the renting of buildings, after that it chips into the member schools’ share. 

“Some of our sports are money makers and some are not money makers. And football really is one of those money makers. So for those schools that make it to that level, they should come out on top and shouldn’t have to come out of pocket to make it there.”

Both Hines and Miller understand that heavy critique for such decisions is a given. But both also believe that, given time, coaches, players and fans will come to appreciate what the new venue will have to offer. 

“If everybody would just give it a shot, no it’s not Mercedes Benz and there’s nowhere like that place,” Miller said. “But the schools are getting the money back in this situation, and the schools will reap the benefit.” 

Said Hines: “Ultimately we want things to be affordable for our families, so that they’ll be able to come out and enjoy a first class, state championship experience. We believe Georgia State Stadium is the best place right now to provide that.”