The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and then Left After Facing Political Pressure
by Jeremy Young ‘24
Image: SunTrust Park in Atlanta Georgia, where the All Star Game was originally planned to be held.
Every year the MLB chooses a city to host the All Star Game. For the city, it is a chance to showcase the culture and uniqueness of their city. Unlike many other major sports all star games such as the NFL and the NBA, the MLB All Star Game is always competitive, with the game’s biggest stars giving it their all in front of a national audience. The MLB All Star Game gives the opportunity for new stars to begin to make a name for themselves as well as giving fans a chance to see the established stars they have come to know and love.
Along with the all star game, there are many other events during this time including the MLB Home Run Derby and the MLB Draft. Following the controversial Georgia voting law, the MLB has decided to pull out of Georgia and instead All Star Weekend will be hosted by Denver. Many people might be thinking, who cares? There is an All Star Game every year, it's not that big of a deal. They couldn’t be more wrong, the full All Star weekend events guarantee sold out crowds and generate huge amounts of revenue for the city and the surrounding areas. This issue extends much farther than baseball itself as it represents a trend of companies and corporations getting involved in politics and making landmark decisions based on political pressure. Sports, which were once seen as the one escape from politics, have become the newest partisan battleground.
The Georgia election bill was signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on March 31, it was incredibly controversial, as some even compared it to Jim Crow era laws. The bill includes limited early voting, rules on ballot drop boxes, and a new deadline for counting absentee ballots. The bill even includes such changes as banning refreshments for those waiting in line to vote. While this might seem like a harmless change, voters, especially in Black neighborhoods, have had to wait hours in line to vote, according to USA Today. Many see this as a response to Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia last November when absentee ballots played a major role in Biden’s win. One of the most controversial aspects of this bill is that it would add a requirement of an ID for absentee ballots. This is important because according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 11 percent of Americans don’t have an ID. Getting an ID can be expensive and finding a place to get an ID isn’t always easy as well. States that require ID’s have seen significantly less voter turnout, some seeing a drop in 2-3 percent which translates to tens of thousands of votes and can easily change the result of a key election. The Presidential election in Georgia was decided by only 11,000 votes in November.
The reason why many argue to keep the All Star Game in Atlanta is because the MLB All Star Game has a huge impact on a city's economy. For example, as a result of the 2015 MLB All Star Game, Cincinnati attracted over 200,000 out of town visitors according to the cities convention bureau. Dan Lincoln, President of the Cincinnati visitors and convention bureau, called the 2016 All Star Game in Cleveland, “You throw around the word transformative. Cleveland has had a lot of big events. (The All-Star Game) is one of those tent-pole events that are highlights on a timeline of renovation and rejuvenation of the whole city.” The 200,000 fans who came to Cincinnati that year are about the same amount of visitors who descended upon Miami for the 2020 Super Bowl (pre COVID). From 2016-2017, the cities hosting were, San Diego, Cincinnati, Minneapolis/ Saint Paul, New York, Kansas City, Phoenix, Anaheim (Los Angeles), St. Louis, New York(again), and San Francisco. Throughout this time, each city averaged 86.7 million dollars of revenue with the most being New York in 2013 with 191.5 million dollars. To put this into perspective, the Atlanta City Council budget for the Housing, Planning and Development, Police Department, Finance, Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs, Department of Waste Management, and all of their other departments combined only adds up to less than half of the revenue generated by hosting the All Star game. This year's all star game was supposed to generate over 100 million dollars for the Atlanta area. According to BBC, local businesses will be losing money, the All Star Game generated between 37-190 million dollars for the local economy. The company that will be losing out the most is surprisingly the Atlanta Braves. During the 2020 season, the Braves lost 65 million dollars according to Forbes, reporting a 68% drop in revenue. Without any fans for the 2020 season and with limited capacity during the 2021 season, the Braves will be looking at sharp declines in earnings this year as well.
The timing on moving the All Star Game is unfortunate; the All Star Game in Atlanta was meant to memorialize the late Henry (Hank) Aaron, a Civil Rights Activist, Braves Legend, and MLB Hall of Famer who passed away in January. He was a pioneer in breaking the racial barrier in the MLB, growing up in Mobile and playing in the Negro Leagues. He endured instances of racism both on and off the field but they didn’t stop him, as he became a 25 time all star and hit 755 home runs. Due to his Civil Rights Activism, many close to him believe that he would have supported the decision to move the game.
This isn’t the first time that professional sports leagues have switched venues due to political reasons. In 1987, the Super Bowl was switched out of Arizona following their state government failing to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a National Holiday. In 2017, the NBA All Star Game was scratched from North Carolina following the controversial bill banning LGBTQ+ people from public bathrooms. The All Star Game was played in Charlotte in 2019.
The decision to move the all star game is a slap in the face for those in this region. Their votes helped Biden win Georgia, which ended up playing a major role in Biden’s winning the 2020 election. This situation also calls into question the idea of corporations involving themselves in politics and choosing sides. The MLB isn’t the only major company in Georgia who has criticised the law. Companies such as Delta, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft have all spoken up and criticized the bill. Rob Manfred, Commissioner of the MLB said that the MLB, “fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,”
Major League Baseball is most popular in Republican states as 7 of the top 10 states that produce the most MLB players are from this region and 19 of the top 25 college baseball teams are from historically red states. Baseball is generally known for being played more in what tend to be Republican states due to the warmer weather. Because of this, a large portion of baseball’s audience is Republican, the very same group who has been criticizing the move of switching the All Star game from Atlanta, Georgia, a historically conservative state, to Denver, Colorado, a historically liberal state. The MLB’s decision to move the All Star Game is an incredibly risky one that has already seen some drawbacks. Already, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball primetime game viewership was down 20% in ratings and 14% in viewership from 2019.
Many Republicans criticize the MLB’s decision to move the All Star Game. The game was moved after pressure from President Joe Biden who said that the bill was “un-American” and “a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience”. Now Republicans will likely place blame on Democrats when the Atlanta region’s economy suffers, specifically Joe Biden who pressured the MLB to move locations in the first place. Some have spoken up against moving the All Star game, including two time World Series winning pitcher David Wells. He told Fox News following the change that he “doesn’t watch baseball anymore,” Former President Donald Trump called for a boycott of the MLB and said, “Baseball is already losing tremendous numbers of fans, and now they leave Atlanta with their All-Star Game because they are afraid of the Radical Left Democrats who do not want voter I.D., which is desperately needed, to have anything to do with our elections,” Trump is right that the MLB has been losing fans even prior to the changing of the All Star game. Their average game attendance is down from 32,785 in 2007, to 26,854 in 2019. Many other Republicans, such as Nikki Haley who support the bill, argue that IDs are needed for many other services such as buying insurance, getting a license, purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, buying a house, buying a car, and going to the hospital. On the other hand, many current MLB players as well as former players have applauded the MLB’s decision. Steve Blass, former Pirates pitcher, and teammate of Civil Rights Activist Roberto Clemente applauded the MLB’s decision. Blass compared it to when Blass’ teammates led by Clemente led the league in sitting out the first games of the season following the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr. Blass told the New York Times, “They took it, quite simply, because the people’s rights to vote were being challenged and/or threatened,” Blass added that he thought that Roberto Clemente would be glad about the MLB’s decision as well.
Not all Democrats are on board with leaving Georgia either. Both Stacey Abrams and Georgia Senator John Ossoff have made addresses saying they oppose changing the location. The White House has tried to distance themselves from the MLB’s decision to change locations but it is hardly a coincidence that the MLB made the change under 48 hours after Biden first said he would “strongly support” a boycott from the players. While Biden supported a boycott of the MLB All Star Game, many have wondered why he hasn’t voiced support for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics held in Beijing China, amid China’s controversial activity especially the holding of Uighur Muslims in camps. Many Democrats support Biden’s response saying it shows his hardline response to voter suppression laws.
Georgia isn’t the only state who faces pressure from large corporations due to political reasons. In Texas, AT&T and Dell have both called out the new Texas Senate Bill 7 (a bill similar to the one in Georgia). Just because companies are voicing their criticism of Republican backed bills and laws doesn’t necessarily mean they are turning more liberal, it could also show the massive impact that cancel culture has taken and the degrees to which companies will go to avoid being “cancelled” and fearing boycotts.
While people are divided as to whether the All Star Game should be played in Atlanta, most would agree that “cancelling” an entire state is dangerous. Not only will it have a drastic effect on the state’s economy, the largest effect will not be on major corporations such as the MLB, Coca-Cola, or Microsoft, it will be on the people who have counted on the influx of people coming to their city to generate a large source of their yearly revenue. On the other hand, this bill disproportionately affects people of color’s right to vote and the bill extends much farther than requiring an ID to vote. Cancelling states is a risky business which has yet to change anything and has yet to only further divide the country.