NFL says passage of religious freedom bill could impact Super Bowl chances

ATLANTA — Some of the area's highest profile businesses are warning about Georgia’s religious liberty bill should it become law.

Gov. Nathan Deal spoke publicly Friday for the first time since

Friday afternoon, the NFL released a statement that said the chances of landing another Super Bowl could be in jeopardy if the bill becomes law.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.  Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

That was soon followed by a statement from Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, publicly opposing the bill.

“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.”

One of the main goals for Blank’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is to host another Super Bowl at the new stadium.

The NFL confirmed state laws that may violate the league's anti-discrimination policies are factored into selecting host sites.

The big game generates about $400 million in revenue, one of the many cash cows the religious freedom bill could put at risk.

READ: Feature film production won't shoot in Georgia if 'religious freedom' bill passes

"The negatives will be unbelievable," said Hyatt Regency Atlanta General Manager Peter McMahon.

McMahon told Channel 2’s Aaron Diamant that he figures his hotel alone could lose $1 million in business over the next 18 months if Deal signs the state legislature's controversial religious liberty bill.

"Don't think for a second that the cities that we compete against aren't using this against us," McMahon said.

Hyatt Hotels, one of growing list of big-name corporations pressuring Deal to veto the bill, believe the bill promotes discrimination.

READ: Tech company to leave Georgia after religious freedom bill passed

Companies like Microsoft, Intel, AT&T and Salesforce have voiced opposition to the bill as well.

In a statement Friday, Atlanta-based Home Depot said:

"We've said all along that we don't support anything that discriminates. One of our core values is respect for all people, and we're firmly committed to that."

A recent report by the Metro Atlanta Chamber estimates upwards of $1 billion in lost revenue in Georgia, everything from canceled conventions to consumer boycotts, based largely on fallout from a similar bill passed last year in Indiana.

The study's author warns, "The recent experiences in Indiana suggest that the reaction will be quite vigorous. The state continues to suffer blowback."

"We literally have an example of a state that has done this and felt the repercussions," Dragon Army CEO Jeff Hilimire told Diamant.

READ: Mayor 'deeply disappointed' in Religious Freedom bill

Dragon Army is a local tech company and Hilimire worries not only about the bill's effects on recruiting and retaining top talent, but competing for critical venture capital.

"It's going to set us back 10 years, easy, for us to suddenly have to fight this as well as everything else we've had to overcome," Hilimire said.

Several people who Diamant talked with Friday also brought up Georgia’s booming film industry.

They are concerned the tens of millions of dollars generated by movie and TV productions could quickly dry up if the bill becomes law.

Channel 2 political reporter Lori Geary took the concerns about the bill’s passage to the state Capitol Friday, and the governor clearly avoided answering the question on whether he'll sign the religious liberty bill into law.

Geary asked Deal if he is worried about putting the state’s reputation as the No. 1 place to do business on the line with the bill.

“I'm not going to answer that question. We'll just wait and see what the final result will be after I review it,” Deal said.

That final version of the religious liberty bill is now on Deal's desk.

“If Gov. Deal vetoes this bill, he is allowing discrimination by the government against people of faith,” Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon said.

McKoon says the bill allows people of faith to live out their religion by allowing them to deny services to people who go against their religious beliefs.

“There is nothing about this legislation that diminishes the rights of a same-sex marriage couple,” McKoon said.

But opponents say it targets gays and lesbians, who are not a protected class under state and federal discrimination laws.

Deal said he stands by his comments


“I don't think we have to have anything that allows discrimination in our state. It's not one of the issues I had been pushing,” Deal said at that time. “We have a belief in forgiveness and we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on religious beliefs.”

But Deal would not say if he considers the bill lawmakers passed the compromise he's looking for on Friday.

“I was pleasantly surprised that they were able to pass something and some of their opinions were put aside in order to do something,” Deal said.

Deal told Geary it doesn't make it any easier to make the judgment call on whether or not to sign the bill.

Adding to the opposition, two other sports team came out Friday against the bill.

In a statement, the Atlanta Braves said:

“The Atlanta Braves organization believes that House Bill 757 is detrimental to our community and bad for Georgia. Our organization believes in an environment that is inclusive of all people. In addition to allowing discrimination against citizens of this state, the bill will have a profoundly negative impact on our organization. As a Georgia business and employer, we proudly support Georgia Prospers in its goal to ensure that the state’s workplaces and communities are diverse and welcoming for all people, no matter one’s race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We are proud to represent Georgia and are opposed to any law that endorses discrimination against anyone.”

The Atlanta Hawks also weighed in Friday, saying:

“For generations, Atlanta has stood at the forefront of civil rights and its diversity is what has made this city a cultural leader in the Southeast. The Hawks strongly believe in the values of inclusion, diversity and equal rights, core principles by which we operate our business and are essential elements in making Atlanta a leading global city.”

Deal has until May 3 to decide whether or not to sign the bill into law.