Phoenix businesses concerned over signage rules in ‘Clean Zone’ ahead of Super Bowl

The "Clean Zone" means any temporary signage must be approved by the NFL, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, and owners must get a permit from the city.
Published: Dec. 29, 2022 at 9:34 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Super Bowl LVII is less than two months away. But for several Valley businesses and communities, the preparations have been going on for longer than that.

The city of Phoenix has designated most of the downtown area a “clean zone” from January 15 through February 19, 2023. That means any temporary signage on properties in this area has to be approved by the NFL, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, and owners have to get a permit from the city. For Bramley Paulin, that’s a First Amendment violation. “He’s been deprived of his constitutional rights,” Goldwater Institute Staff Attorney John Thorpe said.

Thorpe represents Paulin, the Phoenix resident and business owner who owns two pieces of property in the clean zone, where many Super Bowl Week festivities will soon take place. “Paulin’s been making preparations and has been excited to display signs on his property,” Thorpe said.

But Thorpe says because the city of Phoenix has prohibited non-NFL sponsored materials in this clean zone, the advertisers Paulin was in contact with are looking elsewhere. “The response was ‘absolutely not,’” Thorpe said. “We see that you’re in the clean zone. We can’t do anything without NFL approval first.”

In a city meeting last month, Phoenix planning and development sign section supervisor David Williams confirmed that almost any temporary sign in that clean zone will need a permit that property owners can apply for. “Anything that has text, an image, or a logo, or artwork that promotes a business or a service that’s provided,” Williams said. “That’s considered a sign.”

And it’s not just signs. It can apply to anything not physically built into a business. That means posters, flyers, flags, and balloons. From now until the week after the Super Bowl, any signs in the clean zone that don’t have an approved permit are subject to citations or fines. “We are actually proactive, and we will be out doing sweeps in that area,” Williams said. “We’re looking for these non-sanctioned signs as we’re required to do with our agreement with the NFL.”

But Thorpe argues it shouldn’t be up to the NFL, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, or the city of Phoenix to determine what’s ok to display on someone’s property. “The biggest harm, the irreparable harm is being silenced,” he said. “Like thousands in the downtown area.”

Thorpe has reached out to the city of Phoenix and feels confident that the city will change its tune. If not, he’s considering legal action. “This is a huge economic opportunity for anyone downtown,” Thorpe said. “Businesses want to be involved, they want to advertise, they want to do business downtown. But this resolution is so sweeping that businesses that want to play it safe are afraid to do anything that hasn’t been expressly approved by the NFL.”

A city of Phoenix spokesperson said in a statement to Arizona’s family that “so-called clean zones are not uncommon surrounding big sporting events such as the Final Four or the Olympics and are a regular expectation when hosting the Super Bowl. They protect event organizers and their sponsors against ambush marketing tactics and ensure attendees are not confronted with counterfeit products.”

For more information on the city of Phoenix’s permit application process, you can visit their Super Bowl small business support page.