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Nothing But Net: How Much did Indiana’s Legislature Cost Indiana?

7 Apr, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
NCAA and Others Still Wary, Noncommittal on Future Events

There are bad decisions and there are bad decisions made worse by their timing. And at the end of the day, it was the combination of both of these that made Indiana lawmakers change their minds.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), allowing business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples on the basis of their own religious grounds, was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence shortly before the Final Four. It took less than a week of a backlash that stretched across the nation – and most particularly threatened the state's potential to attract sports tourism – for legislators to throw the train into reverse.

All that is in the books at this point. But let's look at what else is on the books -- the possibility of red ink. According to an article in the Indy Star, Indianapolis saw its thriving tourism and convention industry -- something that brought 26 million visitors a year to Indianapolis (and supported 75,000 full-time jobs) -- hanging in the balance. Tourists and conventions have an estimated $4.4 billion yearly economic impact on the city. In fact, Visit Indy estimates that the Final Four alone will have an economic impact of $71 million. That's based on an "economic impact calculator" developed for Indy.

And all that is still questionable. The net result of the fiasco that was RFRA remains to be fully seen.

Other states, such as Georgia, have considered similar legislation. The Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus presented strong cautions to lawmakers, noting, "We know at least $15 million in convention business that has stated they will cancel their reservations, should this bill pass. This is only what we have been made aware of publicly."

The negative response to the law in Indiana came first from national governing bodies, including the NCAA (which noted it intended to "closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events") to national corporations that immediately cut all business travel and commerce to the state.  The battle lines formed within Indiana as well, with many merchants posting stickers in their window, stating, "This business serves everyone," with the link to Open4Service.org. Even the home page of Visit Indy, the CVB and sports commission for Indianapolis, showed a city skyline with a rainbow motif and the words, “All are welcome in Indy.” A special landing page included a message from Mayor Greg Ballard, reiterating Indianapolis’ culture of welcome and acceptance.

While civil rights activists hailed the amended language of the bill as a victory, it is easy to see that Indiana still has to work to recapture the ground that was lost. Use of the hashtag #boycottindiana went viral on Twitter and trended #1.

NCAA’s Emmert told the media he was pleased with the changes to the law, but says the NCAA has not yet made up its mind about future events. The organization was, he noted, ‘in a wait-and-see mode.’

Even as Emmert expressed hope to USA Today that legislators would fix it as they've promised, he warned of ramifications if they don't.

"If I believed we couldn't conduct our affairs in any place in a fashion that didn't prohibit discrimination against people for any number of reasons, then I would surely recommend that we move," Emmert said. "I hope that we don't find ourselves in that place."

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