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Charlotte sports execs: HB2 fallout has been disheartening

In June 2015, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan answered questions at a press conference announcing the NBA All-Star Game was coming to Charlotte, flanked by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (left) and Hornets President Fred Whitfield. On Tuesday, Whitfield told a Charlotte Chamber audience it was “disheartening” to lose the game over House Bill 2.
In June 2015, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan answered questions at a press conference announcing the NBA All-Star Game was coming to Charlotte, flanked by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (left) and Hornets President Fred Whitfield. On Tuesday, Whitfield told a Charlotte Chamber audience it was “disheartening” to lose the game over House Bill 2. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Some of Charlotte’s biggest sports executives on Tuesday called the loss of major events over North Carolina’s House Bill 2 disheartening, but held out hope that the city can return as a sports destination if changes to the bill are made.

Among others, the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and the ACC Football Championship were both pulled from Charlotte over organizers’ opposition to HB2, which limits legal protections for the LGBT community.

Planning the All-Star Game, which the league pulled from Charlotte this summer, really was an 18-month effort, said Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield. The game could have had an economic impact of up to $100 million, Whitfield added, and it could have put Charlotte on the global stage.

“There are other communities out there just waiting for the opportunity to steal those events, steal that economic impact, steal that spotlight. We’re too good of a city and too good of a state not to be able to salvage what we worked for all these years to make ourselves great,” Whitfield said.

“It’s disheartening because it would have been a chance for us to showcase our city just like we did during the DNC.”

The All-Star Game was scheduled to have been played at Spectrum Center, the Hornets’ arena formerly known as Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets management often describes itself as “stewards of the arena,” meaning it is responsible for filling seats even during non-basketball events. That’s become difficult, Whitfield said, as artists like Maroon 5 opt out of North Carolina performances because of HB2.

“We’ve been hit very hard because entertainers are just making a statement about not going to North Carolina,” Whitfield said.

“If this thing gets resolved, we’ve got a big building,” he said. “We’re going to make sure it stays state of the art, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t go out and get any sporting event we want to have.” That includes the 2019 All-Star Game, which the NBA has said will be in Charlotte if HB2 is “resolved,” as well as 2018 NCAA basketball games, the ACC men’s basketball tournament and the CIAA basketball tournaments through 2020.

The 2017 PGA Championship is still scheduled to come to Quail Hollow Club next summer. Tournament director Jason Mengel said the PGA looks forward to Charlotte, but “we realize there will be bumps in the road” over HB2.

Carolina Panthers President Danny Morrison noted efforts led by Charlotte Chamber chairman Ned Curran to attempt to to broker a compromise with the legislature on the measure. “We were all interested in working out some sort of resolution,” he said.

“Not only has it had an economic impact … it’s had an emotional impact,” Morrison said of the losses stemming from the bill.

Speaking later in the day, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory acknowledged North Carolina has been hit “from an emotional standpoint” because of HB2. He also noted how the ongoing dispute over the measure is trickling down into the sports world, but said it’s up to federal courts to resolve now.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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