The state’s high school football championships are officially leaving the Tacoma Dome.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) executive board voted Sunday not to renew its contract with the Tacoma Dome as the host site for the six football state championships, citing fan experience and the rising cost of using the Dome as primary reasons behind the decision.
“The Tacoma community and the Tacoma Dome have been great hosts for many WIAA State Championships over the years,” said WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese in a release. “They will continue to provide an exceptional experience for the WIAA Mat Classic and Hardwood Classic events.
“Ultimately, the Executive Board needed to evaluate whether holding the Gridiron Classic in the Tacoma Dome made sense for the Association, student-participants and fans. Costs of renting the facility have continued to increase and WIAA staff received criticisms regarding the new seating arrangement for football,” Colbrese said.
Colbrese said cost was the biggest factor, but the poor sight lines for fans after the Dome’s renovation were also a big factor.
“The sight lines really took a hit with the new seating,” Colbrese said. “We totally support the Dome renovation and we knew they needed to do it. They were in contact with us from the get-go. With the majority of events they do, they needed to change that configuration.”
Colbrese, who will retire in August, said the decision didn’t come easily for the WIAA. The Tacoma Dome has hosted all high school title games since 1995 and had some involvement in the state football playoffs dating to 1983.
“It’s a difficult decision,” he said. “Tacoma is a great host, a great preps sports community. The Dome has been home for a lot of association events. These are not easy decisions to make. In this case, in came down to fiscal responsibility, keeping ticket prices under control.”
Puyallup High School athletic director Kelly Susee, also a member of the Class 4A WIAA football seeding committee, said he believes the venue change will be a positive one, ultimately.
“With some of the changes for the concert venues at the Dome, you can’t even see players’ numbers on the sideline. It just didn’t work,” he said.
“We’re paying big money and it’s just not a great venue, sight-line wise. From a football purist perspective, I loved it because it was inside and gave fans a spot to not be cold. But it’s going to be fine, wherever it goes. The kids will adjust and adapt.”
While there may be some initial disappointment from players, Susee said he thinks that will subside pretty quickly.
“I think it’s more about the game than the venue,” he said. “You start talking about playing in the state championship game, and I don’t think it’ll matter.”
The executive board and WIAA staff will begin looking for potential sites for the championship games immediately and plan to finalize locations in the fall of 2019.
The move away from the Dome likely spells the end of a single-site championship game format across classifications.
“While the Tacoma Dome offered the ability to have all state championship football games in one location, we anticipate that using multiple sites will have its own benefits,” Colbrese said.
“Fans will see lower ticket prices by no longer paying the service fees associated with the Dome, and related costs of attending the event, such as parking and concessions, will be significantly reduced as well.”
Colbrese said plans are still being worked out, but the most likely scenario will be a three-site approach, which will feature two mid-day games at each site. Ideally, the 3A and 4A sites will be nearby, so fans can watch games on the same day, even at different sites.
Colbrese didn’t go into specifics, but said there’s a good chance the events will stay in the Tacoma area, with ready-to-go sites like Mount Tahoma High School, Sparks Stadium in Puyallup and Harry E Lang Stadium in Lakewood, among others.
“There’s certainly potential (to stay in Tacoma),” he said. “When you look at the fact that we’re looking at facilities that have covered seating on both sides, at least four locker rooms and are fairly close to each other.”
The WIAA is still under contract with the Tacoma Dome for state wrestling and basketball.
“We’re going to stay for wrestling and basketball,” Colbrese said. “The sight lines for basketball are actually better than they were in the old seating configuration. The Dome is a great home and they’re fantastic people to work with.”
Colbrese said the WIAA will save an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 by moving the state football championships.
“It’s a tough decision for us to make,” Colbrese reiterated. “The association loves being in Tacoma. It just ended up being an economic decision.”