Major League Baseball’s decision to move its July All-Star Game and draft from metro Atlanta over a controversial voting reform law will hurt the local economy that week, says one of the few business organizations willing to weigh in amid a firestorm that has divided local elected officials along largely partisan lines.

Quickly passed by Republican legislators and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25, Senate Bill 202 was a response to the GOP’s historic and national power-shifting losses in Georgia’s recent presidential and U.S. Senate elections. Republican leaders claim the law provides needed safeguards against fraud and note that it partly expands early and drop-box voting. Democratic leaders call it a voter-suppression law particularly targeting Black voters and based on the disproven “Big Lie” that Donald Trump won the presidential election but fell to manipulated vote systems. Since MLB’s April 2 announcement, the rapidly expanding controversy now includes such major local companies as Coca-Cola, which are blasted by both sides for variously criticizing the law or criticizing it too late.

The 2021 All-Star Game logo as displayed on Major League Baseball’s website prior to the April 2 announcement that the game will be moved due to Georgia’s voting reform law.

The game was to be held at Truist Park, the Atlanta Braves’ home stadium in Cobb County. Cobb Travel and Tourism, the county’s convention and visitors bureau, has claimed the pull-out means a $100 million hit to the state’s economy at a time of COVID-19 damage, though the details of that estimate are unclear. The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, meanwhile, implicitly criticized the law, saying in a website statement that the ACVB stands “in opposition to any legislation or action that restricts the rights or impacts access for Black, Brown and underrepresented communities to participate in the democratic process.”

Chambers of Commerce and CVBs in Brookhaven, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs have not issued statements about the law, and most did not immediately respond to comment requests. An exception is Discover Dunwoody, the CVB for a city whose Perimeter Center business district is roughly 8 miles away from Truist Park. 

Steven Schumacher, Discover Dunwoody’s interim executive director and sales manager, declined to comment on the politics of MLB’s move. But economically, he said, it will hurt the local market for that weekend. The city hoped to see overflow hotel bookings from Cobb County’s sell-outs, he said.

Schumacher said he hopes an All-Star Game will return in a few years when the pandemic is over and the ballpark can have 100% capacity. “That’s the one silver lining I’ll take from it if we get it down the road. It’ll be a more normal — quote, unquote — All Star Game,” he said.

Shavonne Reed, a marketing consultant who chairs the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, declined to comment about MLB’s decision.

Political reactions

Elected officials are not so hesitant to speak on the matter. Kemp has said MLB’s decision “caves to the lies of the woke Left,” while the Democratic mayors of Atlanta and Brookhaven have criticized the law. Reactions from some local legislators fell along party lines, with Republican state Senators John Albers and Kay Kirkpatrick blasting MLB and Democratic state Representatives Betsy Holland and Josh McLaurin backing the league.

“I am unhappy that the MLB commissioner got ahead of his skis,” said Kirkpatrick, whose district includes East Cobb as well as part of Sandy Springs. “He not only hurt our beloved Atlanta Braves but also the frontline folks in Cobb County who have suffered enough during the pandemic.”

Albers and Kirkpatrick echoed a national Republican criticism that most states have more restrictions against early and absentee voting than Georgia does. 

“This decision by Major League Baseball is uninformed, hypocritical and pandering.”State Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell)

“How disingenuous that Major League Baseball, based in New York, a place with some of the most restrictive absentee and early voting ballot laws in the country, would announce that they are moving the upcoming All-Star Game,” said Albers, a Roswell Republican whose district includes part of Sandy Springs. “… Georgia just expanded voting while adding security and transparency. This decision by Major League Baseball is uninformed, hypocritical and pandering.”

“I won’t even get into MLB’s relationships in countries where the vote is meaningless,” said Kirkpatrick. 

State Reps. Holland and McLaurin said MLB is taking an appropriate stance.

“Rather than declaring the existence of a culture war, I wish the governor and other Republican officials would take a deep breath and listen to what MLB players and voters — particularly Black people — are saying,” said McLaurin, who represents part of Sandy Springs. “The MLB was listening to its players, just as we should be listening to our voters. And their message is clear: there was no legitimate reason to take action in SB 202 to limit access to voting in Georgia.”

“I’m reminded of the story that when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta, the MLB required Atlanta to desegregate Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in order to approve the move, and hence, the stadium ceased the practice of separating seating areas by race,” said Holland, who represents much of Buckhead. “Sometimes, we need a cultural institution to stand up for social change and demand that we do better.” 

“Sometimes, we need a cultural institution to stand up for social change and demand that we do better.”State Rep. Betsy Holland (D-Atlanta)

Holland said she is “grateful” to business leaders who stood against the law. I’m sorry for the loss of economic opportunity surrounding the All-Star Game,” said Holland, “but I think in order to continue to be a prosperous city that attracts new business and new talent, we have examine the impact of bad, regressive bills flowing through the legislature.”

Sandy Springs City Councilmember Andy Bauman, who is running for re-election this year, weighed in on Facebook with a thumbs-down to both sides. He called the law “premised on the ‘Big Lie,’” but that boycotting sporting events is “politically dumb” and will energize Republican extremists while turning off moderates.

“First off, the Atlanta metro area, its voters and state legislators, are NOT the problem,” wrote Bauman. “The backward response of the Georgia GOP comes largely from rural areas of our state, but the economic and social impact will be felt entirely in metro Atlanta. Moreover, by continuing with these sporting events, it will provide a platform for athletes and media wanting to highlight the problems with the bill and other social issues that still exist in our state.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.