Although the Super Bowl bids for the 2019 and 2020 season won't be awarded until May, the controversy surrounding Atlanta's desire to host the game seems likely to be discussed as the NFL owners gather in Boca Raton, Florida, this week.
Late last week, league spokesperson Brian McCarthy issued a statement saying an anti-gay bill that recently passed through the Georgia legislature which would enable religious leaders to refuse to perform same sex-marriages and allow tax-funded groups to deny services to gay men and lesbians could jeopardize Atlanta's Super Bowl bid. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank immediately denounced the bill in this statement:
"One of my bedrock values is 'Include Everyone' and it's a principle we embrace and strive to live each and every day with my family and our associates, a vast majority of which live and work in Georgia. I strongly believe a diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer. House Bill 757 undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia."
Though House Bill 757 still needs to be signed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to become law, the strong opposition to it from Blank, the NFL, and business owners in the city of Atlanta seems likely to sway Deal, who said he has a tough decision ahead. The financial repercussions of the city losing the Super Bowl certainly will weigh heavily on Deal's mind. Deal said he intends to review the bill in April.
It will be interesting to see what other owners will have to say about the situation this week. Colts owner Jim Irsay will be able to relate somewhat to the scenario. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last April. Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl during the 2011 season.
Blank is in process of opening the new $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, expected to be ready in the summer of 2017. He previously announced intentions of hosting Super Bowl 53 during the 2019 season and will bid against Miami, Tampa, and New Orleans. Atlanta also would be in contention for Super Bowls 54 and 55 against Miami, Tampa, and Los Angeles.
The bids for 2019 and 2020 will be awarded at the spring meeting in Charlotte, May 23-25. Deal's decision on House Bill 757 should be made well before then.