April 29, 2010— -- Arizona's passage of a controversial anti-immigration law could cost the state Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, potentially depriving an already battered economy of millions of dollars.
A New York congressman who called for the league to move the 2011 game from Phoenix is the latest person to push for an economic boycott against the state in protest of the new law. Companies have been pulling conferences out of Arizona resorts while others have suggested consumers shun companies, such as US Airways, that are based in the state and have yet to condemn the the law.
"I think that when people, states, localities make decisions this monumental, they should know the full consequence of that decision," Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., said. "I think Major League Baseball, with 40 percent Latino ballplayers at all levels, should make a statement that it will not hold its All-Star Game in a state that discriminates against 40 percent of their people."
The 40 percent figure could not be independently confirmed and a spokesman for Major League Baseball said the league had no comment at this time.
The 2009 game generated an estimated $60 million for St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association. New York's economy generated an estimated $150 million the year before, according to New York City's Economic Development Corp.
The law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week, makes it a misdemeanor to fail to prove lawful U.S. residence when asked to provide such documentation.
When Arizona stopped recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1987, various groups organized boycotts of the state. Pressure eventually fell on the NFL, which in 1991 pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix. Voters approved the holiday in 1992 and Tempe, Ariz., was awarded the 1996 Super Bowl.
Serrano called that boycott "monumental" in getting the state to reverse its position.
"The NFL and the players and the union were smart enough and committed enough to know that this was important," he said.
Tourist Boycott Arizona Over Immigration Law
Tourism officials estimated that Phoenix alone lost almost 170 conventions and an estimated $300 million in benefits from the five-year-long controversy.
"Baseball has been a game that has unified us," Serrano said. "People root for players on their team regardless of where they come from. You might have strong feelings against immigrants but you don't mind that fact that there's a guy playing on your team with a visa from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic or some other place."
Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who focuses on sports, said the economic loss from one game would have "a pretty small impact" on Arizona but that the attention it would draw could be damaging.
"A publicity campaign that goes on for months and months and months makes other people, who have nothing to do with Major League Baseball, stay away from Arizona," Zimbalist said.
Between the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the latest immigration law, Serrano said of Arizona, "They seem to always be behind the times."
It's not just out-of-state politicians calling for economic protests. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who represents southern Arizona's 7th Congressional District, has called for a convention boycott of his own state.
As for the airline boycott, Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for US Airways, said: "We've received a few inquires but are not aware of anyone canceling their trip at this point."
He declined to say whether the airline will take a stand on the law.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has already announced that it is moving its 300-to-400-person September convention, scheduled for Scottsdale, out of Arizona. Other groups are locked into contacts but some making new bookings are avoiding the state.
Hotels are already feeling the pinch.
"We've probably lost upwards of $100,000 in business," said Jim Hollister, general manager of the FireSky Resort & Spa, a Kimpton hotel in Scottsdale. "Some were definite on the books for us, some were people who were looking to stay with us."
Hollister said the biggest dollar loss came from corporate bookings but that plenty of leisure travelers called or e-mailed and specifically said they were canceling because of the immigration law.
Some guests who stayed last week, he said, said they loved the hotel but weren't coming back until the immigration law was changed.
Several large companies planning conferences are deciding to skip Arizona, according to Blake Fleetwood, president of Cook Travel, which has five agencies in the greater New York area. Fleetwood said he is organizing events for several investment banks and doctors' groups who contacted him after the law passed.
Tourism Industry Fears the Worst
"They want to take any large Arizona properties off the list for now," Fleetwood said. "They don't want to support that type of behavior."
Fleetwood said that a boycott by the tourism industry could move policy, citing the King holiday example.
"If we can affect 5 or 10 percent of their business, that's a huge hit for them," he said. "There are too many other places to go to that are dying for business."
Fleetwood immigrated from South America when he was 4 and said that 90 percent of his agents were also not born in this country. He said the travel industry is watching this new law carefully and won't sit by idly.
"The rest of the United States is not going to put up with their anti-American attitude," he said. "We've sent many travelers to Arizona but now they don't want to go there until they stop these Gestapo-like laws. It's just un-American."
Arizona, with plenty of second homes and a pre-recession housing bust, is hurting more than most of the country. Tourism there has been steeply off and Debbie Johnson, president of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, said this isn't going to help.
"Obviously, our members are concerned," Johnson told the Associated Press. "I thought there would be political issues. It has become so tourism-focused and that, to me, is the unfortunate side."
Johnson said there are 200,000 families, many of them Latinos and legal immigrants, who depend on a paycheck from the tourism industry.
"They don't want to lose their jobs," she added.