Last week, thousands of Texans watched as the New England Patriots made a comeback for the ages in Super Bowl LI in Houston. But the future of Texas Super Bowls may now be in question.
In a statement on Friday, the National Football League emphasized the importance of inclusiveness at their events. Discriminatory legislation is certainly a factor when deciding where to award events like the Super Bowl and NFL Draft, the league said.
One target: a controversial Texas “bathroom bill,” SB 6. The bill would require transgender people to use the restroom that matches their birth sex in government buildings. It also bars local governments from incorporating transgender bathroom protections into their own anti-discrimination legislation.
As far as the Super Bowl is concerned, this isn’t an immediate concern: the hosts of the next three Super Bowls have already been named, and none of them is in Texas. But the NFL’s statement threatens to bring Texas conservatives’ traditional values into conflict with their love of sports, not to mention jeopardizing the financial benefits that flow from such high-profile events.
“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” said league spokesman Brian McCarthy, the LA Times reported. “If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.”
Texas is one of eight states to have introduced a bathroom bill this year, according to the Associated Press, and the proposal has the backing of 15 Republican state senators, including the state’s lieutenant governor, Sen. Dan Patrick. But the bill has already raised concerns about financial repercussions in the state’s powerful business community – concerns that the loss of a future Super Bowl would likely intensify.
"This legislation will needlessly jeopardize jobs, investment, innovation and tax revenue for our state, and it sullies our reputation as an open, inclusive and welcoming state," Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace said in a statement in January.
In North Carolina, which introduced its own controversial "bathroom bill," HB 2, in March of last year, Forbes estimated that the state lost as much as $630 million as concerts were canceled, investments went unmade, and sports tournaments were relocated outside the state.
The loss of the Super Bowl in any given year could be worth just as much. While estimates vary, the Super Bowl could be worth anywhere from “a couple hundred million to nearly $800 million,” PJ Johnston, an NFL spokesman for Super Bowl 50, told CNBC last year.
Technically, the NFL’s inclusivity policy would not be affected by SB 6. As private venues, the sports stadiums can set their own rules, according to Alejandro Garcia, a spokesman for the lieutenant governor.
"All Texas teams will be able to set their own policies at the stadiums and arenas where they play and hold their events. There is no conflict with the NFL’s statement today and Senate Bill 6," he said.
But that's probably not enough for the NFL, which has a record of relocating its events when it feels its values are being compromised. The 1993 Super Bowl was slated for Arizona, but when the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday, the league moved the event to California. That pressure may have been enough to sway Arizona, which began recognizing the holiday in 1992 and has since played host to several Super Bowls.
But despite the NFL’s concerns, football could be safe in Texas for many Super Bowls to come. This kind of controversy isn’t unusual at the start of the legislative session, former Texas lawmaker Sherri Greenberg, a Democrat, previously told The Christian Science Monitor – and not much ever comes of it.
What’s more, Senator Patrick, ostensibly the law’s strongest proponent, may not expect it to go through, Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, previously told the Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson.
"Patrick is a very prominent and influential politician in Texas, and right now he is busily signaling the business community that, 'I'm going to talk about this incessantly, I'm going to rail about it, but not to worry – nothing bad is going to happen. You can depend upon Joe Straus, the speaker of the House, and Greg Abbott, the governor, not to let me do anything,' " he said.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.