If sports leagues turn on Indiana, as it appears will be the case if the law is not repealed (and Pence repeatedly said it wouldn’t), it could be devastating for Indianapolis. Long a sleepy, cloudy, industrial burg, Indianapolis has sprung to life in recent years, in large part because of a sparkling new airport (built in large part to help spur a Super Bowl visit) and a vibrant, walkable downtown that’s ideal for hosting sporting events. This will be its seventh Final Four, it regularly hosts the Big Ten Tournament (this Illinois grad can verify that Indianapolis is hands-down the best B1G tourney host) and, most impressively, it received widespread plaudits for Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. The NFL was so pleased with how well-run and well-organized that Super Bowl was—and how there were enough hotels and restaurants downtown to satisfy all the visitors, particularly when everyone can just walk to the stadium and walk home—that it was widely assumed that Indianapolis would be receiving another Super Bowl down the line, perhaps as early as 2019. There’s no chance of that now, not while that law still exists. In fact, as long as that law is on the books, it’s difficult to imagine any sports organization placing any major event in Indianapolis: It is simply against the current prevailing corporate culture, in sports or otherwise. It is plain bad business for the NFL to mess with that. There is no Super Bowl in Indianapolis’ future, not anymore.
You know who should keep a particular eye on how this plays out? Georgia. The state has been wrestling with its own version of a religious-freedom bill, introduced by State Senator Josh McKoon, and while it was tabled for this session of the state legislature, McKoon is expected to try again when the House reconvenes. It will be difficult to argue, even for the bill’s supporters, that its passage wouldn’t be a self-inflicted and likely fatal wound for Atlanta’s desire to host major sporting events in its soon-to-open $1.4 billion stadium. The New Atlanta Stadium—as it will be called until a corporate sponsor pays the Falcons millions of dollars—will begin hosting the Falcons and an expansion MLS team in 2017 but is the centerpiece of a plan to make Atlanta a sports hub, hosting not just the Super Bowl, but also the Final Four, soccer’s Gold Cup and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Georgia can kiss all of that goodbye if McKoon’s bill passes. They won’t have a chance.