Frequently Searched

Super Bowl Suppression: Phoenix Gov’t Lets NFL Censor Free Speech

December 14, 2022

Want to communicate with the public on your own property in downtown Phoenix? You’d better get permission from the National Football League (NFL) first.

It sounds outlandish. But as Phoenix gets ready to host Super Bowl LVII festivities in February, the city government has given the NFL the authority to censor signs on private property. Now, the Goldwater Institute is stepping in on behalf of a local business owner to demand that the government end this blatant, unconstitutional attack on Phoenicians’ fundamental right to free speech.

The United States Constitution and Arizona’s state constitution both guarantee individuals’ right to express themselves freely, without government censorship—and this includes the right to display signs on private property. Time and again, courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have said that the government cannot decide whether or not to allow a sign based on its message. The government certainly cannot make these decisions based on whether a private third party approves of another private party’s message.

But that’s exactly what the city of Phoenix is doing. In preparation for the Super Bowl, which will be played in nearby Glendale, the city has designated a nearly two-square-mile area (virtually all of downtown Phoenix) as a “Special Promotional and Civic Event Area.” Through February 19, 2023, no resident or business in this city-imposed “clean zone” is allowed to display temporary signage without the approval of the city and two private organizations: the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee. In other words, the city has banned hundreds of businesses, and thousands of residents, from speaking freely without permission from the government and two of the government’s handpicked entities.

That’s why the Goldwater Institute sent a letter to the city of Phoenix yesterday on behalf of Bramley Paulin, a Phoenix resident and business owner who has been unable to lease out his property for temporary signage placements due to the city’s restrictions. The letter requests written assurance from the city that Bramley and anyone approved by him may advertise on his property without unreasonable restriction and without any input or review by the NFL or the Super Bowl Host Committee.

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.

The Goldwater Institute is leading the nationwide charge to defend free speech—whether by restoring free speech on college campuses or by fighting policies that compel Americans to speak against their will in order to practice their professions. Yesterday’s letter makes clear that Goldwater will never stop fighting to vindicate free speech and restore constitutional limits on governmental power.

John Thorpe is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute. 



More on this issue

Donate Now

Help all Americans live freer, happier lives. Join the Goldwater Institute as we defend and strengthen freedom in all 50 states.

Donate Now

Since 1988, the Goldwater Institute has been in the liberty business — defending and promoting freedom, and achieving more than 400 victories in all 50 states. Donate today to help support our mission.

We Protect Your Rights

Our attorneys defend individual rights and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Need Help? Submit a case.

Get Connected to Goldwater

Sign up for the latest news, event updates, and more.