Phoenix Rescinds NFL’s Authority To Govern Free Speech Following Court Loss

January 28, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the city of Phoenix rescinded the NFL’s authority to regulate free speech via signage throughout the Super Bowl season. The city’s resolution, issued Wednesday, followed their court loss last week in Paulin v. Gallego, in which a resident challenged the city’s resolution granting the NFL authority to approve or deny residents’ signage. 

The change comes with less than one month left to go before the Super Bowl.

The city has a significant financial incentive to cater to the NFL’s requests. When the city last hosted an NFL game in 2015, they experienced a $700 million boost. Gallego told Scripps News this month that they anticipate over one million visitors to the downtown area. 

“These events and activities will bring significant revenue and media exposure to the City of Phoenix during the event period,” stated the city’s original resolution.

In anticipation of this lucrative opportunity for exposure, the city enacted a resolution in October granting the NFL and Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee the authority to reject signage within a “clean zone” constituting two square miles in downtown Phoenix. 

Direction on whether existing signage had to remain was unclear: the city issued contradictory instructions on its website, in one post declaring that temporary signage had to be removed by last Halloween, while another post declared that the signage rule didn’t take effect until Jan. 15. 

Additionally, the city’s signage rule applied to all types of signage: menus, political yard signs, and trespassing warnings. The ordinance only left alone any permitted permanent signs — not temporary ones. 

Local business owner Bramley Paulin challenged the city’s initial resolution; the rule prevented him from advertising on his property. Paulin wanted to advertise to the upwards of 1.5 million people anticipated to attend a nearby music festival in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Yet, any potential business partners told Paulin they could not advertise on his property since he was in the city’s “clean zone,” and they were considered non-NFL partners. 

In an email exchange, Coca-Cola informed Paulin that they would receive a cease-and-desist letter if they attempted to advertise within the “clean zone.” 

Any business seen as competition to the NFL couldn’t advertise — effectively giving the NFL a monopoly over their allotted downtown area. 

In response, Paulin sued the city with the help of the Goldwater Institute. In the lawsuit, the Goldwater Institute asserted that the city’s ordinance gave power to unaccountable private actors and stripped Paulin of his right to limited, accountable, and transparent government. 

“The [city’s] resolution further violates the separation of powers by giving the NFL and the Hosting Committee unchecked power to make decisions about Arizonans’ constitutional rights, without the panoply of safeguards by which citizens can hold their governments accountable, such as public hearings, record requests, and elections,” stated the lawsuit. 


A trial court judge issued a temporary injunction on the city’s ordinance; a more permanent block of the rule was contingent on the city removing it completely in Wednesday’s meeting. 

The Goldwater Institute noted on its online profile of the lawsuit that cities in recent years have begun enacting similar, restrictive “clean zone” ordinances to cater to mega-events like the Super Bowl. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

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