MLB discussing options for Atlanta All-Star game following Georgia voting law

The Battery is a lively venue featuring shops, bars and restaurants from local chefs at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves MLB team as the facility is currently closed while sports are on quarantine during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Atlanta, Georgia on April 18, 2020.

David J. Griffin | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Major League Baseball is discussing the status of its 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta as more corporations publicly oppose a new voting law recently passed in Georgia.

The league is gathering feedback from teams and executives about the matter before coming to a decision on relocating the game. Baseball’s midsummer event is scheduled for July 13 at Truist Park, the Braves home field.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the Associated Press the league expects to have “substantive conversations” about moving the game with MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark. But Manfred didn’t go into detail about MLB’s plan or its stance on the new law.

“I am talking to various constituencies within the game and I’m just not going beyond that in terms of what I would consider or not consider,” Manfred said.

Georgia lawmakers passed a bill that will overhaul state elections. The new law adds guidelines around mail-in ballots, voter registration and provides state officials more authority around how elections are operated. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the changes into law on March 25.

Critics of Georgia’s new voting laws say it will suppress votes, especially among people of color in underserved areas. In an interview with ESPN, President Joe Biden criticized the changes, calling it “Jim Crow on steroids.” The president added he would support moving the MLB All-Star game.

Kemp defended the law when he appeared on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” Wednesday, saying it gives more people the chance to vote on weekends.

On Wednesday, top Wall Street executives, including Merck‘s CEO Ken Frazier, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian and former American Express CEO Ken Chenault expressed displeasure around the new law.

“Corporations have to stand up. There is no middle ground,” said Chenault, who appeared with Frazier on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The executives called for more companies to publicly stand against elements of Gregoria overhauled voting laws.

Economic fallout

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, local taxpayers would pay $2 million for expenses to host MLB’s event, but would see a great return on that investment. The 2019 All-Star game was projected to bring in $65 million for Cleveland. According to baseball-almanac, the last time Atlanta hosted the game in 2000, it generated $49 million.

Hence, should the city lose the game, it could suffer financially.

“There is economic impact,” said Bill Squires, an expert in sports facilities and event management. “People are going to travel there for the weekend; watch the home run contest, the game on Monday. There is hotels, Uber, restaurants, airfare, rental cars — there is economic impact, no doubt.”

Though moving the game could be difficult from a logistical stance, Squires, who formerly managed Yankee Stadium, said he would be shocked if MLB doesn’t already have a contingency plan, especially in a pandemic. He used the National Football League as an example.

“Knowing how sports operate, just think about the NFL with the situation with the San Francisco 49ers who couldn’t play at Levi Stadium and relocated quickly to State Farm Stadium in (Arizona)” said Squires, who is also a lecturer at Columbia University. “The contingency plans are always in effect; they have to be. I’d be shocked if every league doesn’t have a backup plan for the primary location because its contingent on what is going on in the world.”

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. presents the Commissioner’s Trophy to the Houston Astros owner Jim Crane after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Alex Trautwig | Getty Images

Does MLB have a stance?

Should MLB move its contest, it wouldn’t be the first time a professional league relocated a significant event due to a controversial law.

In 2016, the National Basketball Association removed its 2017 All-Star contest from North Carolina after “House Bill 2,” also known as the “bathroom bill,” restricted rights among the LGBT community. The NCAA also suspended its championship events in the state. The bill was eventually repealed and the NBA returned the event to Charlotte in 2019.

“It has stained our reputation, it has discriminated against our people, and it has caused great economic harm in many of our communities,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in 2017 after the bill was overturned.

But as MLB remains quiet on its stance, it could harm their image. Patrick Rishe, the director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, said MLB’s lack of action could alienate younger fans.

“If MLB is serious in catering to a younger audience, and that has been a major goal, their actions in this matter will say a lot,” Rishe said. “These younger fans, they want the brands they utilize to stand for something and they also want their teams and their leagues to stand for something,” he added.

MLB opens its 2021 regular-season on Thursday, returning to a 162-game format after playing only 60 games last season due to the pandemic.



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