A proposed religious liberty bill in Missouri could end up costing the state more than $50 million annually in lost business and revenue, according to the Kansas City Sports Commission.
Opponents say it amounts to sanctioned discrimination. Proponents say it merely protects the rights of religious groups.
“This amendment is not a license to discriminate against protected classes of people,” David Krueger, a church pastor and chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission, said earlier this month, according to a Convention publication. “It is a shield, and not a sword.”
But to Kansas City Sports Commission President and CEO Kathy Nelson, the bill is neither shield nor sword — it’s a scarecrow that will drive business away from the state.
“The proposed constitutional amendment will have a detrimental effect on our ability to attract future sports business to Missouri and terminate the millions of dollars of visitor spending our sports industry generates on a yearly basis,” she argued in a letter last week.
The Commission estimates that major national amateur and professional sporting events hosted in Missouri’s biggest city generates $51 million for Kansas City each year and $3 million in annual state tax revenue. Kansas City hosts an average of eight championships every year.
Some or all of that could disappear should lawmakers pass the bill, the Commission argues, as sports teams, college conferences and governing bodies choose to hold events in states whose laws are more reflective of their own inclusive corporate policies.
While they have not outright declined to hold events in Missouri, the leaders of several collegiate organizations have issued statements about the proposed bill, noting that local laws play a role in host site selection.
That list includes Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby:
The Big 12 Conference and its member institutions support the rights of all individuals regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. It is acknowledged that elected officials enact laws they believe reflect the desires of their constituents, however, as a Conference we will consider the impact of the Missouri Legislature’s action on current and future Big 12 events within the state.
And Southeastern Conference 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.
It also includes the NCAA, which said in a statement reported by the Kansas City Star:
Our commitment to the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has not changed and is at the core of our NCAA values. It is our expectation that all people will be welcomed and treated with respect in cities that host our NCAA championships and events.
The statements were just the latest example of sports leagues, conferences, teams and owners weighing in on state religious liberty bills throughout the country.
The NCAA released the same statement in response to similar gay rights-related fights in Georgia and North Carolina. And as lawmakers in Georgia debated a now-vetoed religious liberty bill earlier this month, the National Football League weighed in, noting that the measure could affect Atlanta’s bid to host the Super Bowl.
“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” it said. “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.”
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Braves also said in statements that the bill would have negative consequences, according to local reports.
In Missouri, the consequences could be especially severe, as cities across the country are currently engaged in bidding to host future NCAA championship events.
“Even Missouri’s consideration of such a Constitutional amendment will put Kansas City (and all cities in the state) at a severe disadvantage to compete for those lucrative events,” Nelson argued in her letter. “All sports, across all divisions, both men’s and women’s, through the year 2022 are currently up for bid.”
The NCAA awarded 16 championships through 2018 to Kansas City a few years ago, more than any other city in the country, Nelson said.