Bohls: Texas’ bathroom bill could flush money, sports events from state

UConn’s once-unbeatable women’s basketball team, giant-killer Mississippi State and two other teams converged upon Dallas this weekend in that city’s first Final Four ever in that sport. The event could bring $110 million into the city coffers.

Just two months ago, the New England Patriots pulled off the most improbable comeback in NFL history, rallying from a 25-point deficit to win the Super Bowl, the third that the city of Houston has hosted. The game figured to bring $350 million as a direct economic impact.

A year from now, San Antonio will invite the four best men’s basketball teams to the Alamodome as that city hosts the Final Four for the fourth time, only the sixth facility to host that event that many times. That should mean a $135 million benefit for San Antonio.

But there’s a distinct possibility that none of those red-letter sporting extravaganzas will come back to Texas.

If Texas legislators choose to pass the polarizing Senate Bill 6, otherwise known as the transgender bathroom bill, and require transgender persons to use the restrooms that conform with the biological sex on their birth certificates rather than their preferred gender, those high-dollar games may go elsewhere.

Sports is big business in America and bigger in Texas than almost anywhere else. It would be wise to continue that relationship, but it could be imperiled by a controversial bill that has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.

Consider that Texas has hosted a Super Bowl, a men’s and women’s Final Four and NBA and major-league baseball All-Star games a total of 27 times.

And not just sporting events could go away. Businesses and conventions may spurn Texas as well. Some may reject our state because Texas doesn’t reflect the diversity and inclusion that most businesses desire. Hollywood might stay away.

California recently implemented a state travel ban that precludes teams from its state-funded public schools from traveling to states like North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, which have passed what the state calls “discriminatory legislation.” While previously scheduled games like Texas’ football game at USC next September are exempt, future scheduling with California schools could come to a halt. The Alamo Bowl pairs teams from the Big 12 and the Pac-12, which would diminish the available choices.

Could the College Football Playoff drop Arlington’s AT&T Stadium from its six-bowl rotation? At this point, not very likely. The CFP isn’t controlled by the NCAA, and its board hasn’t even discussed the potential affect of SB 6.

The NFL and NBA have said SB 6 could jeopardize the chances of Texas cities being awarded host sites for future Super Bowls and All-Star Games. Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, said of SB 6 this week, “I don’t think it’ll pass. I don’t think we need it. I think there are other things more important going on in the world.”

Houston has been reported as a candidate for the NBA All-Star Game in 2020 or 2021.

The NBA canceled its stop in Charlotte for the All-Star weekend and shuttled it to New Orleans. The NCAA stripped the state of seven events, including the early rounds of the basketball tournament, which forced North Carolina and Duke to play further from home.

Tourism officials in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio told The Texas Tribune those cities could lose at least $407 million in economic benefits. Mike Waterman, president of the Greater Houston Visitors Bureau, told the Tribune “if this bill passes, by the time Texas feels any economic impact, it will be too late to react. … In 2019, you will see some, and 2021, 2022 and 2023 could be potentially catastrophic.”

Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses that opposes the bill and other bills seen as discriminatory, says that number reflects potential direct spending losses but does not include sports. That’s harder to project. Needless to say, the potential explosive legislation could have resounding consequences for our state.

We can find Tom Brady’s jersey. Now it’s time we find ourselves.

The state’s leaders need to do the right thing even if it’s for the wrong motives. They can refuse to vote for it because they don’t want to curtail a thriving business market or do so simply because it’s discriminatory on the face.

North Carolina just repealed its immensely controversial bathroom bill although neither its conservative wing nor the transgender community is happy with the outcome. It’s not coincidental that an Associated Press survey on the economic impact of the original bill could cost that state as much as $3.76 billion in losses over 12 years from sporting events, businesses, concerts and whatever that have or could relocate elsewhere.

I can’t imagine Texas wanting to flush so much money out of the state economy that its legislators would cavalierly overlook that.

“If you take that economic impact and put it in the Texas footprint, our economy is three times that size,” said Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business. “So that would be over $10 billion right there. Just using some of the North Carolina benchmarks, that was a big deal there in terms of potential loss in NBA and NCAA events, and it certainly references the risk of losing future Super Bowls and NCAA events.”

Gov. Greg Abbott refuted the idea that North Carolina has suffered so greatly financially. He told me at Austin Country Club at the conclusion of last weekend’s Dell match play golf tournament that the North Carolina numbers weren’t as bad as projected.

“There was a story posted last week (in the Washington Times) the economic impact for North Carolina was not nearly as bad as had been predicted,” Abbott said. “You can believe this or not, but its travel and tourism last year was the highest amount ever for North Carolina.”

Abbott, who has not publicly declared his position on SB 6, declined to go further, saying, “That’s the only observation I have right now.”

The supporters of North Carolina’s law refute the numbers of the AP study and say the financial fallout is much smaller than others suggest. But it’s no coincidence that after it abandoned its previous stance and repealed the bathroom law this week, the NCAA announced New Orleans as the site for the 2022 Final Four and is poised to name hosts for other championships for the next five years.

North Carolina figured it’d better get in line.

Or quid pro queso, as it concerns San Antonio. That city doesn’t seem concerned the NCAA could strip it of next year’s Final Four.

“We’re not focused on that. We’re focused on planning a great event,” said Jenny Carnes, executive director of the local organizing committee. “2018 for us is a go.”

Carnes said the committee estimates about 75,000 out-of-state visitors will flock to the Alamo City and occupy 40,000 room nights when they’re not eating nachos on the River Walk. San Antonio is in the midst of a $50 million renovation of the Alamodome, everything from expanding the concourse to improving the locker rooms.

An NCAA spokesman said, “Currently, there is no Texas law that would prohibit an NCAA championship. We are continuing to plan for the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio.”

Currently, Stacy Osburn said.

But pass a discriminatory law, and watch these events pick up stakes. The NCAA likes to move them around among time zones anyway, but there’s a wealth of them in mid-America waiting to say pick me. Cities like New Orleans, Kansas City and Minneapolis. Last year’s Final Four brought Houston about $150 million in consumer spending, according to the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

Big bucks, in other words.

Houston has been a destination city for a while now. The Super Bowl brought 87,000 out-of-staters there and they spent up to $94 a day besides their hotel costs.

“We’re great at hosting them,” said Chris Newport, the chief of staff for the Houston Super Bowl Committee. “We’re going to bid in the future.”

He’s not overly concerned about SB 6.

“It’s early in the process, so I’m not going to speculate,” he said about SB 6. “It’s got to pass first.”

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