Some will say it wasn’t worth it. Some will say the state sold its moral soul to the devil to get it, but the news that Atlanta will host the 2019 Super Bowl is welcome in most quarters, but particularly welcome around the new $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium that will be home to the Atlanta Falcons.
Supporters, though, of the so-called religious freedom bill that was proposed in 2015 and in 2016 would probably have a dimmer view. In 2015, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau came out with studies showing Georgia could lose $600 million in convention business and Georgia stockholders could lose an average of 4 percent on investments in companies that could be targeted for boycotts. The CVB study said Atlanta would lose 2.5 million hotel-room bookings over four years if a religious freedom bill passed without certain anti-discrimination language.
The CVB study also said $450 million would disappear in direct spending every year along with 4,000 jobs; $400 million in lost business sales and $50 million in lost state and local taxes — all totaled a $2 billion hit to the city’s tourism industry.
What a difference a year makes. While the bill died in 2015, it passed both the House and Senate in 2016, an election year. In April, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the measure saying, “House Bill 757 doesn’t reflect Georgia’s welcoming image as a state full of warm, friendly and loving people.”
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It’s safe to say that if the governor had allowed the religious freedom bill to become law, Atlanta wouldn’t be hosting the Super Bowl in 2019. The league had made that point perfectly clear. A number of other companies — from Disney to Apple — called on the governor to veto the bill as well.
Will a version of the bill likely surface next session? It could, but what the NFL giveth it can taketh away, and there are plenty of cities ready and willing to host a Super Bowl, including one fan of Atlanta’s — Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones. “They are deserving of having this Super Bowl,” Jones said. “Obviously it's a great stadium; a state-of-the-art stadium. But it's the entire aggregation with what's happened with the College Hall of Fame, and that whole picture down there is just something that not only Atlanta is proud of, but I'm proud of. It was a big deal to this ownership for Atlanta to have this Super Bowl.”
However, let something go south during the next session and Jones will be first in line saying “Come on down to Arlington, we’ve got a little stadium we can rent ya.”