Phoenix Allows NFL to Determine What Residents Can Display on Their Property During Super Bowl

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute (GI) has called out the city of Phoenix for imposing free speech restrictions on residents in a “Special Promotional and Civic Event Area” (Clean Zone) leading up to and through the 2023 Super Bowl.

“By delegating unfettered censorship power to private entities, the city of Phoenix has launched a blatant attack on its own citizens’ free speech rights under both the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution. It’s simple: Phoenicians shouldn’t need to ask the NFL for permission to communicate with the public on their own private property,” said GI Staff Attorney John Thorpe in a statement emailed to The Arizona Sun Times.

The Sun Times reached out to the city of Phoenix for additional comments but did not hear back.

Thorpe sent a letter Tuesday to the city regarding this issue. He explained that under Resolution 22073, passed by the city, all temporary signage in the Clean Zone “not authorized by the NFL or the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee” (ASBHC) are restricted. According to Thorpe, these restrictions cover nearly all of downtown Phoenix and will be in effect until February 19th, 2023.

The city of Phoenix states that the final day to get any temporary sign applications approved is December 15th.

This ordinance has allegedly caused trouble for one Phoenician business and property owner, Bramley Paulin. The GI represents Paulin in this situation and shared that he reached out to potential partners about leasing and advertising but was rejected because of the city’s restrictions.

Aside from the aforementioned free speech violations, Thorpe argued that the city is also improperly delegating its government power. As established in Industrial Commission v C D Pipeline, the government “may not delegate its authority to private persons over whom [it] has no supervision or control.” Therefore, the city violates this by giving private entities, the NFL and ASBHC, regulation over private citizens’ free speech. Additionally, the city’s ordinance may violate the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause and the Gift Clause.

Because of the harm caused to Paulin by the Clean Zone ordinance, Thorpe urged the city to provide a quick written response giving assurance that he and his business partners can advertise on his property without “unreasonable restriction” or review from the NFL and ASBHC. Should the city not comply with the request, Thorpe said the GI is ready to seek legal remedy.

“Helping host Super Bowl festivities is an exciting opportunity for Arizonans. But hosting sporting events should not come at the cost of surrendering constitutional rights. And decisions about the free expression rights of downtown residents should not be delegated to unaccountable private parties,” said Thorpe.

Furthermore, this is not the only situation in which the GI represents Paulin. In May, John Riches and Timothy Sandefur of the GI filed a complaint against the city of Phoenix, accusing it of giving private enterprises tax breaks, with Paulin named as one of the plaintiffs. The city was essentially giving one private entity property excluded from the tax roll through a mechanism called the Government Property Lease Excise Tax, which then put that burden on other Arizona taxpayers. The GI entered the case to stop what it called an unconstitutional abuse of power.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Statefarm Stadium” by Troutfarm27. CC BY-SA 4.0.




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