From bluegrass to baseball outfields, HB2 could cut into business

An April email form the organizers of the World of Bluegrass festival suggests attendance could be hurt and future events could move due to House Bill 2. Local venues that host college sports tournament games also say future events could be warded off by the law.

Posted Updated
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Organizers of the World of Bluegrass festival are among the numerous groups that have warned tourism officials in Raleigh and throughout North Carolina that they are keeping a wary eye on the impact of House Bill 2, the controversial state legislation dealing with LGBT rights.

Publicly, the International Bluegrass Music Association put out a relatively dry statement in April after House Bill 2 first passed that spoke about "a wide diversity of views within the membership" and pledged to "continue monitoring the situation."

But IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger was more blunt in an email sent around the same time to executives with the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau and to Pinecone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music.

"It is possible that HB2 may affect participation at this year's WOB and/or become a factor in the site selection process for WOB 2019 and beyond," Schiminger wrote in April.

In a conversation Tuesday, he described that email as "prudent due diligence" but could not say what, if any, impact on attendance the law might have this year.

Just last year, the IBMA inked a deal to keep its week of festivities in Raleigh through 2018. While other major events have pulled out of North Carolina, most notably the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, Schiminger said there have been no conversations about changing the event's location for 2017 or 2018, and he would not speculate on how House Bill 2 might play into the group's decision for 2019.

Schiminger also emphasized that the decision as to whether to stay in Raleigh for the 2019 event or after had to do with the overall success of the event than any one law or policy.

"It's all about the success of the event in Raleigh and can we see that success carrying on beyond 2018," Schiminger said Tuesday.

Schiminger's email was among those WRAL News obtained through public records to convention and visitors' bureaus in Raleigh, Greensboro and Asheville with regard to House Bill 2, which deals with which bathrooms transgender individuals can use in public buildings and delineates a state nondiscrimination policy that excludes gay and transgender people.
According to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the event soaks up 23,000 hotel room-nights and generates $10.8 million in economic impact for the week. That's not as big as the estimated $100 million estimated impact from the NBA All-Star Game, but it's the largest event hosted in the Raleigh area and part of a $2.3 billion tourism economy in and around Wake County.
Not all convention business is being lost to House Bill 2. The National League of Cities, for example, recently said it would not punish Charlotte by withdrawing its 2017 fall conference, saying in a news release, "we stand with the City of Charlotte, and we will oppose any actions that preempt local control or discriminate against members of our communities."
But other events are at risk, and while CVBs have been tallying the number of conferences that have pulled the plug on North Carolina events, David DuBois of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events said the long-term economic impact will be harder to measure.
"Even more importantly, what's the opportunities lost for future business?" DeBois asked. "Many associations and corporations are not even calling Raleigh and Charlotte today."

Sports organizers also nervous

DuBois' group estimates the convention business generates $250 billion in economic activity annually across the nation. Laws and ordinances "that even hint at discrimination" put convention recruiters at a disadvantage, he said, citing the example of Arizona, which in 2010 garnered national headlines for an aggressive state anti-immigration measure.

"They're just now getting back to the booking levels they use to enjoy," DuBois said.

College sports tournaments could be among the future events most at risk in the Triangle. The NCAA announced last week that it was surveying venues that host or want to host tournament events about local nondiscrimination laws and policies as part of a long-term vetting process. Conferences such as the ACC have said they will follow suit.

"Even without HB2, it would be very, very competitive. This just raises the bar even more," said Doug McRainey, Cary's director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources.

Cary has hosted more than 50 college championship events over the past 10 years, he said, spreading $100 million of impact throughout the region. In the next year, it is scheduled to host a Division III tennis championship, a Division II baseball championship and a Division I women's lacrosse tournament in addition to the ACC women's soccer championship.

"We're going to try to make our best effort and answer all the questions (on the NCAA survey)," McRainey said.

Some questions, like the availability of restrooms for all, he said were simply matters of facilities. For things like broader discrimination provisions in state law, he said, the town would have to make its best effort and hope good facilities and good local efforts win the day.

In the sports, entertainment and event-planning sphere, many are looking toward a scheduled November trial in federal court that could strike down House Bill2 or otherwise make it more palatable to outside organizations considering North Carolina.

George Habel, vice president of Capitol Broadcasting Company's sports group, said he's worried the the Durham Bulls would not get the chance to extend their streak as host of the ACC baseball tournament. Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of WRAL News as well as the Durham Bulls and just finished the second year of a four-year deal to hold the ACC baseball finale.

"Our concern is, when they start comparing cities to host things, you'll just get ruled out because of the law in your state," Habel said. "It makes me nervous, I think is the best way to put it."

Normally, he said, this would be the point in the contract cycle where a venue would start talking to a sports conference about extending its contract. Whenever that starts, he said, the Bulls will make the pitch that Durham is a community that meets all of the benchmarks for inclusiveness that a conference could demand, despite the state law.

"It's very frustrating because Durham is a community renowned for its diversity and inclusiveness," he said. "That's the case we would make, that we are the poster child for diversity. But I have no feel for when the winnowing process begins, as they look at competing cities, how HB2 impacts that, if HB2 is still the law of the land."

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