Sports and Arizona's Relationship is Going to Become Quite Complicated Soon
By Evan Weiner
April 24, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) -- Has Arizona once again risked losing the Super Bowl?
No, this is not about the Arizona Cardinals football team bowing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2009 Super Bowl and returning to the “Big Game”. That is merely a game on the field. But off the field there is now a big question.
How will the sports world react now that the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the state's two legislative bodies have passed a tough immigration law? Could Arizona lose major sporting events like the Super Bowl? The National Football League is in the midst of the league's draft and probably will not get around to comment on the new Arizona law but given the very political nature of the league and how the league is very sensitive to the NFL's image, it is probably a good thing that Glendale, Arizona is not in the running for the 2014 Super Bowl.
The new Arizona law will go into effect sometime this summer assuming that there are no court orders to stop it.
The National Football League has a history of pulling a Super Bowl from Arizona and putting the political weight of the entity known as the NFL into a lobbying position. Arizona "celebrates" Martin Luther King Day as the result of direct intervention by the National Football League in terms of dangling a Super Bowl in front of voters. In 1987, newly elected Arizona Governor Evan Mecham's first act in his new job was to erase Martin Luther King Day from the Arizona calendar as an official state holiday. That decision set off a boycott of the state with entertainers like Stevie Wonder refusing to perform in any venue in Arizona.
Governor Mecham's reasoning was simple. The Arizona legislature in 1986 and Governor Bruce Babbitt, in Mecham's opinion, created the holiday illegally.
The National Football League, in an attempt to help the Phoenix Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill to sell more seats after he misread the Phoenix-area market following the move of his Cardinals from St. Louis to Tempe in 1988, awarded Tempe the January 31, 1993 Super Bowl. But Mecham's decision created a number of problems for the league, specifically the National Football League Players Association was not too keen on playing the NFL's showcase game in a state where a governor took away the holiday and the action was supported by Senator John McCain.
In 1989, the Arizona state legislature approved a law making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday but voters needed to approve the measure. In 1990, Arizonans went to the polls and rejected the making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday. Shortly after the voters said no, the NFL said no to Arizona and pulled the January 31, 1993 game from Tempe.
The Super Bowl allegedly pumps money into the local economy although in the Phoenix-area's case it is not as much as say putting the "Big Game" in Pontiac, Michigan or Detroit or Minneapolis since a good number of "snowbirds" vacation or spent winters in warmer climates like the Phoenix-area, South Florida or the Tampa, Florida area. What the Super Bowl does do is bring "high rollers" into town and the local community hopes that the "high rollers" such as corporate CEOs like a local area and will leave a piece of their business in the area and open up a local headquarters and create jobs.
That rarely happens but it is a selling point for the local group hoping to land a Super Bowl.
The National Football League after pulling the 1993 game went back to Arizona and laid the cards out on the table telling voters if they approved the holiday in a November 1992 vote, the NFL would award the next available Super Bowl to Tempe. Arizona voters approved the 1992 ballot initiative and five months later the NFL lived up to their part of the bargain and granted Tempe the January 28, 1996 game.
The next available Super Bowl is the 2014 game but Glendale and Arizona officials are not bidding for that event which is probably a good thing for everyone involved at this point. The NFL also holds a spring meeting once every four years or so at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.
There is another real sports prize that could impacted by the new Arizona law. The Glendale, Arizona stadium, that is the home to the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, is one of the 18 cities that has been proposed for use by USA Bid Committee in an effort to win the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.
The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sports event on earth.
The new law will not play well with the FIFA delegates or some of the members of the USA Bid Committee which include Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, comedian and Seattle Sounders FC part-owner Drew Carey, former Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman (Asia) Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. Men’s National Team player Landon Donovan, Executive Director David Downs, U.S. Soccer CEO and General Secretary Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer Foundation President Ed Foster-Simeon, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, U.S. Soccer President and USA Bid Committee Chairman Sunil Gulati, U.S. Women’s National Team former player Mia Hamm, Walt Disney Company President and CEO Robert Iger, former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, New England Revolution and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Motion Picture Director Spike Lee, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, University of Miami President Donna Shalala, ESPN Executive Vice President for Content John Skipper, Univision CEO Joe Uva and Washington Post CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth.
The Glendale stadium hosted the highest attended soccer match in the state of Arizona on February 7, 2007 when 62,462 fans watched the U.S. National team defeat Mexico, 2-0. Will the new Arizona law put a halt to international football "friendlies" in Arizona featuring Mexican teams?
Major League Baseball might be keeping a close eye on the developments in Arizona. The Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers are looking for improvements at spring training bases in Mesa and Maryvale for their teams. Naples, Florida officials have made an offer to Cubs ownership to relocate the team's spring training facilities from Mesa to Naples.
If the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes remain in Glendale, the franchise's new owners could be to host the 2012 or 2013 NHL All-Star Game. Glendale was supposed to venue of the 2011 event but the club's bankruptcy filing and financial uncertainty forced the league to move the game to Raleigh, North Carolina.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association held a "March Madness" men's basketball tournament event in Glendale in 2009. Will the NCAA bypass Glendale because of the new law?
Then there is another issue. Will athletes speak up either in favor or against the new law? Athletes now tend to shut up on issues with the exception of a handful of performers like then Dallas Mavericks basketball player Steve Nash who spoke out against the Iraq War. Wayne Gretzky supported the Iraq War. Ironically Nash now plays in Phoenix and Gretzky coached in Glendale.
Arizona is a hub of sports activities. Glendale is the home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. The NBA Suns and Major League Baseball's Diamondbacks reside in downtown Phoenix. There is a NASCAR event along with golf and tennis events. Fifteen Major League Baseball teams hold spring training in the Phoenix area, there are major college football, basketball and baseball programs along with minor league baseball and hockey teams scattered throughout the state. The United Football League holds training camp in Casa Grande.
There is a belief that sports is the "toy store" of life and that it is just a game, an entertainment diversion. The truth is that the toy store yarn that is constantly spun is a lie. The NFL proved that in 1991 and 1992 in Arizona. There will be a sports reaction to the legislation signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, it is just a matter of time before a powerful sports group reacts and it just might cost Arizona a big event if history is any indication.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and "Sports in Society." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org