Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The NAACP’s longtime boycott of the state over its contentious Confederate flag has cost cities like Columbia and Charleston at least $10 million.
What has it cost South Carolina to fly its Confederate battle flag?
At a minimum: one college baseball tournament, two college football bowl games, and potentially scores of college basketball tournament games, plus the millions these sports events would rake in for South Carolina cities. Not to mention appearances by the New York Knicks, Serena Williams, and others.
Back in 1999, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for an economic boycott against South Carolina. That embargo is still in place today. But soon, its raison d'être might not be: Governor Nikki Haley is working to move the state legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the campus of the capitol in Columbia in the wake of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church massacre.
It was the flag that prompted the first talks of a boycott more than 20 years ago—and it may have been that embargo that spurred Steve Spurrier, football coach for the University of South Carolina, to say that the state needed to get rid of “that damn Confederate flag” back in 2007. Since then, as The Post and Courier explained two years back, cities in South Carolina have missed out on plenty of tourism-magnet events, especially in the form of NCAA tournaments.
The Post and Courier reported that a proposed Legends Bowl would have brought an estimated $6 million in annual economic activity to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. That bowl game would have kicked off last December; another bowl game, the Palmetto Bowl, was proposed for Charleston in 2004 but scuppered due to the boycott.
Consider all the March Madness games that Colonial Life Arena never hosted and the opportunity costs start to pile up. The back-of-the-envelope math suggests that flying the Confederate battle flag near the capitol has cost South Carolina cities at least $10 million in tourism and revenue—and probably millions more.
Now, it’s within the realm of possibility that the Confederate battle flag itself is a tourism magnet. Possible, but not very damned likely. Has anyone ever made a trip specifically to see a flag in front of a government building—except, perhaps, to protest it? Mind you, had the flag come down years ago, the Confederate memorial on which it stands would’ve still been in place. To be sure, South Carolina’s decision to fly the Confederate battle flag has surely turned up donations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various grandstanding Republican politicians, but that’s neither here nor there.
So does the NAACP plan to drop its boycott if the Confederate battle flag comes down? A spokesperson for the organization did not return a call for comment, but I’ll update if he does.
In the meantime, two-thirds of the South Carolina state legislature must approve a motion to remove the flag. According to a running tally by The Post and Courier, the yea’s don’t have it yet. If the legislature refuses to take down the flag, cities such as Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville will pay the price—and given the attention this debate has garnered, many more teams and performers could sign on to a renewed boycott.
Another way to think about it: It costs South Carolina roughly $1 million per year to fly the Confederate battle flag. That cost is only going up. Is it worth it?