For the first time in over two decades, the PIAA Football State Championships won’t be played at Hersheypark Stadium. Instead Cumberland Valley High School will play host to the six state title games for the next four years.

Four institutions sent in proposals to host the football championships: Cumberland Valley, Altoona’s Mansion Park, Hersheypark Stadium and Penn State University.

In the end, the PIAA elected to host the championships at CV due to their upgraded facilities, playoff atmosphere and cost to host.

But many football fans and longtime attendees of the state championships wondered why the game was moved out of Hershey in the first place. What went wrong after 24 years in the same place? The answer isn’t as black and white as one might think.

So abc27 took an inside look at all four bids to host the football state championships, and met with the PIAA to discuss the pros and cons of each.

Cumberland Valley High School

Details of the proposed bid

  • Cost to host per year: $10,600, offset by an $8,000 sponsorship from Cumberland Area Economic Development
  • Capacity of Chapman Field: 8,045 spectators with 82 dedicated wheelchair accessible seating
  • Parking availability: 1,231 spaces in five parking lots
  • Revenue sharing: PIAA gets all ticket sales, Cumberland Valley gets 90 percent of concession sales and gives 10 percent to PIAA

Pros

  • Upgraded facilities including indoor turf field for warmups, new track, upgraded concessions, designated locker rooms for officials, brand-new turf for the football field (planned installation this spring), new video board and press box amenities
  • Meeting spaces for teams and PIAA administration
  • Conveniently located in the middle of the state with adequate highway access (117 miles from Philadelphia, 190 miles from Pittsburgh, 120 from Altoona)
  • Access to lodging and dining resources, accessibility of medical resources within minutes of campus
  • Cumberland Valley is a PIAA member instituation

Cons

  • High school stadium as opposed to a neutral site
  • Smaller seating capacity than any of the other bids

Altoona Area High School’s Mansion Park

Details of the proposed bid

  • Cost to host per year: $2,400 per year
  • Capacity of Mansion Park: 10,400 spectators (meets ADA regulartions)
  • Parking availability: 870 parking spots at Stadium & various local businesses
  • Revenue sharing: PIAA gets all ticket sales, Altoona gets all concession sales

Pros

  • Already familiar to PIAA as Mansion Park Stadium hosts a number of regional events
  • Cost well within PIAA budget, cheapest cost of any of the bids
  • Newly upgraded facilities include scoreboard/videoboard, stadium lights, new track, ADA bathrooms
  • Altoona Area School District is a PIAA member instituation

Cons

  • High school stadium as opposed to a neutral site
  • Less upgraded than Chapman Field at Cumberland Valley
  • Parking is not in designated lots just for the stadium, would possibly require some type of shuttling service

Hersheypark Stadium

Details of the proposed bid

  • Cost to host per year: $25,600 cost in 2021 to host the six football championship games
  • Capacity of Hersheypark Stadium: 15,000 total spectators
  • Parking availability: 14,000 paved and marked parking spaces, 60 spaces for ADA parking
  • Revenue sharing: PIAA gets all ticket sales up to $40,000 then splits the rest of the revenue 55 percent to PIAA and 45 percent to HE&R, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts get all concession sales

Pros

  • Host institution for football since 1998, and hosts basketball and wrestling state championships already
  • Centrally located & perceived as more neutral site (despite both Lower Dauphin and Hershey HS’s playing their home games at Hersheypark Stadium)

Cons

  • Cost to host more than Cumberland Valley & Altoona Mansion Park
  • Lack of upgrades in facilities like the locker rooms, turf surface, spectator areas
  • Based on ticket sales PIAA believes Hersheypark Stadium can look more empty

Penn State’s Beaver Stadium

Details of the proposed bid

  • Cost to host per year: $240,000 offset by a $100,000 sponsorship from Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, total cost to PIAA: $140,000 with 3 percent increased per year of bid
  • Capacity of Beaver Stadium: 20,000 spectators allotted in bid (with ability to add more as needed)
  • Parking availability: 7,300 plus parking spaces at a parking fee of $5.50/$10.00 and $20.00 for buses (2 buses complimentary and 4 vehicles per team)
  • Revenue sharing: PIAA gets all ticket sales, Penn State gets all concession sales

Pros

  • Prestige of playing in Beaver Stadium for teams and spectators
  • First time PIAA says that Penn State has expressed interest in hosting the games since the first in 1988
  • Penn State Football Head Coach James Franklin’s desire to play high school championships at Beaver Stadium

Cons

  • Grass playing surface with concerns over playing in bad weather
  • Overall cost greatly exceeds the revenue earned by PIAA Football State Championships

Full interview with PIAA Executive Director Dr. Bob Lombardi

Cumberland Valley is your new home for the football, soccer, field hockey and volleyball state championships through 2025.

“I always thought this would be a great centrally located place to host the state championships,” said Cumberland Valley Athletic Director Mike Craig.

The Eagles won the bid to host the PIAA state championships due to their upgraded facilities, including an indoor turf field, and the installation of turf at Chapman Field scheduled for later in Spring 2022. Cumberland Valley said they were eager for the chance to host more state championships after hosting the team wrestling, swim & dive and volleyball state championships.

“It really is nice to be wanted,” said PIAA Executive Director Dr. Bob Lombardi. “To be wanted by a school that’s a member of our association is very, very important.”

PIAA will pay Cumberland Valley just 2,600 dollars to host each year of football championships. But it wasn’t the cheapest bid the PIAA considered, as Altoona Area High School’s Mansion Park came in 200 dollars cheaper per year after waiving any facility rental costs.

“I don’t think it was anything one did wrong,” Lombardi said. “I think that was just a little step up over here [at Cumberbald Valley].

Hersheypark Stadium, who has hosted the football state titles since 1998, cost the PIAA 25,600 dollars in 2021 for the six games. The bid to host from 2022-25 was the same in its ticket-revenue sharing proposal. PIAA would keep the first 40,000 dollars of ticket sales, and then the organizations would split the revenue 55 percent to PIAA, and 45 percent to Hershey Entertainment and Resorts. This was the only bid that proposed ticket revenue sharing.

Additionally, HE&R would take home all of the concession stands; Cumberland Valley was the only bid to offer to give back some of its concession sales to the PIAA (will give 10 percent to PIAA each year).

“We have a very good relationship with our friends at Hershey, and we’re still there for a number of events,” Lombardi said referring to basketball and wrestling, which are both held inside the GIANT Center. “We really get along with them and this was a very difficult decision.”

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts congratulated Cumberland Valley in a statement saying they are proud of the long and storied history between Hershey and PIAA State Football Championships.

“High school athletics are such a vital part of the fabric of our communities,” the HE&R statement continued. “Ultimately, regardless of the location of the host venue, these championships are about showcasing the tremendous student-athletes who work extremely hard to arrive at a Championship. Whether the host is Hershey, Cumberland Valley, or elsewhere, the Championship game will be a success as long as the focus remains on the participants, and their dedication, sacrifice, and hard work.”

The PIAA, which is a non-profit, makes 70 percent of its revenue from ticket sales at state championships. While the organization says this decision wasn’t all about the money, the cost does matter and factor into the decision-making process.

“We used to go with our hat in our hands to places and go ‘please, will you take us? Would you host for us?'” Lombardi said of the bidding process since he joined the PIAA staff in May of 1988. “Everyone thinks that all these colleges and universities are open to us, and they’re not.”

But one college did step up wanting to host, and it was the biggest one in the state. Penn State offered to hold the six games in Beaver Stadium. The biggest drawback for the PIAA was playing on a grass surface.

“We haven’t played on a grass surface in years and the reason being [that] you can’t put six games on a grass field if you have any type of bad weather,” Lombardi said.

But it wasn’t just the surface, the price tag made it a no go from the start. After a 100,000 sponsorship from the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, the PIAA would still pay Penn State University 140,000 dollars per year with a three percent increase for each year of the bid.

The PIAA says it makes less than 100,000 dollars per year from the football championships, so the financial side never would have worked at that price point.

“You’re sort of flying in the dark sometimes when you make these bids,” said Fritz Smith, Happy Valley Adventure Bureau CEO. “I think it’s a learning lesson for us. I’m a little surprised that we were that much off but that’s a good learning opportunity for next time.”

The PIAA holds baseball and softball state championships at Penn State’s facilities and says they were encouraged to see a bid to host football in the mix.

“It was nice and refreshing that at least Penn State opened the door,” Lombardi said. “We haven’t had any interest from them since 1988 in our first football championship.”

There are some that still critique the move saying the “Road to Cumberland Valley” doesn’t have as much of a ring to it as the championships being played in Hershey.

“At the end of the day, you’re in a state championship,” Craig said of why Cumberland Valley is still special. “I think that in itself is special. But I can tell you were going to do everything we can on our end to make sure that it’s special for the kids.”

Cumberland Valley will host a fall festival of state championships at the end of 2022, as they will now host football, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball and field hockey. The Eagles will have these events through 2025, when the bidding process will be reopened to any institution that wants to submit.