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Georgia law could cost Atlanta a Super Bowl, but losing the SEC would cost even more

The Southeastern Conference has even more power to impact the controversial law than the NFL itself does.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Georgia governor Nathan Deal has until May 3 to reject or sign a new "religious liberty" bill passed by the state legislature. House Bill 757 would allow employers and businesses to deny services or jobs on the basis of behavior that conflicts with religious beliefs, raising concerns about LGBTQ rights.

The NFL has strongly suggested 757's passage would take Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, scheduled to open in 2017, out of consideration to host a Super Bowl.

In 2015, similar legislation in Indiana drew criticism from multiple major sports leaguesincluding NASCAR, before being amended. An Arizona law threatened the 2014 season's Super Bowl and was eventually vetoed.

Last year, Atlanta was named one of four finalists to host the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls, with a selection scheduled for this May. Atlanta was considered a favorite to land one, given the working logic that the NFL tends to reward stadium construction.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium has already locked up multiple other big events, including the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2018 and an agreement with the SEC to extend Atlanta as the host of the SEC Championship through 2026.

Both the SEC and the Playoff released statements regarding the potential passage of 757.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey:

Our conference championship events are an extension of our universities which are places of diversity and opportunity. We are attentive to this legislative matter as we continue our policy of considering numerous factors in determining sites for our championship events.

Playoff executive director Bill Hancock:

We deplore discrimination wherever it occurs and note that there is a public debate about this matter and its implications, as well as whether or not it will become law. We will keep an eye on this, but our group's focus is on sports and public policy matters are better left to the experts and voters to resolve.

SB Nation also requested comment from ESPN, a corporate partner of the Playoff:

At ESPN, we embrace diversity and inclusion and we are evaluating our options.

The Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will still serve as a Playoff semifinal in 2016 and '19. Its organizers have not yet responded to a request for comment. We'll update when they do.

The impact on Atlanta of removing any of these games would be tricky to measure.

Organizations like the NFL and NCAA often tout "economic impact" studies to promote events and stadiums. They tend to be projections of how much money would be spent by fans and event organizers on hotels, food, alcohol, transportation, merchandise, etc., then how that profit would later be spent inside the community. The math tends to be nebulous at best.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, part owners of the current and new football stadiums, estimates the SEC Championship created a $1 billion economic impact on Atlanta from 1999 to 2014, a span of 16 sold-out games at $62.5 million per event.

That figure was included in the SEC's official announcement of the partnership's extension.

Using the math offered by the SEC and not counting inflation, Atlanta would stand to gain a $687.5 million economic impact over the next 11 contracted SEC Championships. Throw in the 10 more available through extension, and the SEC title game would be worth $1.3 billion over 20 years, before inflation.

The 2015 Super Bowl brought the Phoenix area anywhere between $30 million and $500 million, depending on whether you believe one economist or the game's committee.

Either way, the SEC impacts Atlanta's economy more than a Super Bowl could.

And sports events aren't even Georgia's biggest potential economic losses.

For comparison's sake, combined economic impact numbers from the SEC and NFL pale in comparison to the film industry's work inside Georgia. The state touted a $6 billion impact number through the 2014-15 fiscal year. Several major television and film studios working in Georgia have threatened to pull production, including Disney.


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