The evolution of the Super Bowl Clean Zone

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Yesterday's settlement on the Super Bowl Clean Zone may have left some wondering how, exactly, New Orleans city government could have drafted an ordinance with such obvious constitutional issues: sanctioned and permitted signs only, 60 percent NFL branding or "feel" in order to obtain a permit.

The answer is that neither the Landrieu Administration nor City Council invented any of this. The Clean Zone, as defined under the original, pre-consent judgment ordinance, has been around at least since last year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement's Super Bowl XLVI Information Packet, published in October, 2010, shows that city's Clean Zone ordinance was virtually identical to the New Orleans law, including the vague/bizarre 60 percent NFL branding requirement.

The year before that, the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington (where the Super Bowl was actually being played) all passed Clean Zone ordinances. At first glance, those appear somewhat less restrictive than the New Orleans law. No 60 percent provision for one — at least not as the law is written — and signage restrictions there specifically applied to "advertising displays," rather than any and all signs, banners, flags, etc.

Anti-bullying activist Eric Williams was cited for violating the Arlington law after parking his campaign bus within the Clean Zone. The bus — parked in a Best Buy lot — was apparently decorated with Best Buy ads, according to the Dallas News. Williams sued the NFL and the city.

"Municipalities hosting recent Super Bowls have adopted them as an NFL requirement for hosting the game," writes Michael McCann in a 2012 SI.com column about the laws, a good read except for one small error: The city of Detroit's 2006 Super Bowl Clean Zone was not 300 miles, it was within a 300 feet perimeter of Ford Field.

The nominal "Clean Zone" then was confined to a very small area, especially compared to the massive New Orleans Clean Zone. But it had nothing to do with "rogue advertising." It was a special, fenced of security zone required by the Department of Homeland Security. However, the city did establish two other Zones: NFL Entertainment Zones, sponsored enclaves of League-Approved "Fun" throughout Downtown Detroit; and the Overlay Zone, which covered anything within a mile of Ford Field. That's still a far smaller area than the New Orleans Clean Zone, but the restrictions were at least as, and arguably even more stringent than we see in the newer incarnations.

Activities prohibited without explicit city permission within the Clean, NFL Entertainment and Super Bowl Overlay Zones (together comprising the Activity Zone), from the 2006 Journal of the Detroit City Council:


(1) Any vending of food or beverage;
(2) Any vending of merchandise;
(3) Any activity in or on a temporary
structure;
(4) Any operation in any previously
vacant structure; or
(5) Erection or placement of any flag, inflatable, projection of images, sign, or structure.

Further Reading:
Unconstitutional Hosting of the Super Bowl: Anti-Ambush Marketing Clean Zones' Violation of the First Amendment

Which contains the following prescient line: "Super Bowl XLV seemingly went by without any issues or challenges as it related to the clean-zone ordinances in Arlington and Fort Worth, Texas— except for some minor confusion as to how the ordinance would be enforced.15 However, if a future Super Bowl host city enacts an ordinance that matches exactly what the NFL asks for in its bid package, as Fort Worth did, those cities should also be prepared for constitutional challenges to such clean-zone ordinances."

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