Phoenix Rule for Super Bowl Signs Struck Down

Next Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs will square off in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. In preparation for the big game, Phoenix passed a resolution that designated part of its downtown as a “Clean Zone” from January 15 until February 19, a week after the Super Bowl. Without a special permit and permission from the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, people and businesses could not put up temporary signs that were not related to the NFL.

This rule resulted in a lawsuit by a Phoenix resident who owned property in the designated area. Bramley Paulin had wanted to lease out his property to companies such as Coca-Cola, which might have found the advertising opportunity attractive. Coca-Cola turned him down because of the “Clean Zone” rule. (The Super Bowl partners with Pepsi, so Paulin probably wouldn’t have gotten a permit for a sign advertising its competitor.) Paulin argued that the resolution was unconstitutional, in part due to the involvement of private entities like the NFL in the decision-making process. Phoenix responded that other cities have enacted parallel rules for major sports events. However, Paulin pointed out that just because there’s a precedent for a rule doesn’t mean that it’s constitutional.

A few days ago, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bradley Astrowsky agreed with Paulin that the resolution was unconstitutional. Judge Astrowsky found that the government does not have a legitimate interest in content-based regulation of signs, especially not when this is based on the content preferences of private entities that get special privileges from the government. Moreover, he explained that the resolution improperly delegated government power to a private entity without accountability and did not provide any standards to guide decision-makers.

While the case was ongoing, Phoenix tried to fix the problem by passing a new resolution that removed the NFL’s role in granting approval. However, Judge Astrowsky said that this solution wasn’t good enough for Paulin’s situation. The new resolution still required an application process, which probably wouldn’t have been completed before the game. Thus, Judge Astrowsky ordered the city to decide on Paulin’s pending application within 48 hours.

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