Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Sport Stadium Referendums: Factors Influencing the Success or Failure of Ballot Measures

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Sport Stadium Referendums: Factors Influencing the Success or Failure of Ballot Measures

Article excerpt


Public subsidies are a significant source of funding for professional sport arenas, ballparks, and stadiums (all of which are hereafter referred to as stadiums). Public investment averaged 78% of the total cost of the 121 facilities in use during 2010 across Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League (Long, 2013). The average public cost of North America's major league stadiums was $259 million, and the total public cost across these stadiums exceeded $31 billion (Long, 2013).

Historically, public financing proposals involving the construction of sport stadiums have been subject to voter approval in a number of cities across the United States (Brown & Paul, 2002; Mondello & Anderson, 2004), though the prevalence of stadium referendums and initiatives has declined in recent years (cf. Kellison & Mondello, 2014). Successful passage of stadium initiatives has come despite popular public sentiment opposed to the use of public monies for the construction of sport-related facilities (Rasmussen Research, 1997). Approval of these ballot issues has also occurred despite the conclusion from economists that public financing of sport facilities is not an astute economic decision (Ahlfeldt & Maennig, 2009; Barclay, 2009; Coates & Humphreys, 2003; Rosentraub, 1999; Siegfried & Zimbalist, 2006).

The issue of sport stadium referendums is important because these projects are among the largest and most expensive public works undertaken by communities. The lack of past stadiums' demonstrable economic impact suggests voters favoring stadium subsidies may not base their decisions purely on the objective economic realities of a proposal. If that were accurate, fewer propositions should be approved. As contended in this paper, citizens vote on stadium referendums under conditions of incomplete information based on subjective perceptions of reality, centered on information received as a by-product of daily activities or through the use of information shortcuts. Explaining the success of these propositions requires broadening the scope of investigation to focus on the factors influencing voters' perceptions of the consequences of their decisions at the ballot box. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to propose a model identifying the factors influencing voter attitudes toward stadium referendums. Below, we provide a summary of the work related to stadium subsidization and voting behavior. Next, we introduce a conceptual model of voter decision making and define its constructs. Finally, we discuss how the model could be validated empirically and propose several directions for future research.


Expenditures for the construction of sport-related facilities have become increasingly important within the political environment of North America's cities. In virtually every situation in which a professional team seeks the construction of a new facility, a significant portion of the cost of the project is borne by the public sector. Even on those rare occasions when the construction of a facility is funded entirely by a team's ownership and other private partners, the public sector subsidizes road improvements, sewage systems, and other areas of the city's infrastructure necessary for the operation of a completed facility (Danielson, 1997; Long, 2005). Understanding the politics surrounding stadium construction has become increasingly important because North America's cities are so closely linked to this segment of the domestic economy.

Decisions to provide public financing for sport venues represent an important area of policymaking within North American cities. In political science, several policy studies have focused on the process through which team owners, elected officials, and other stakeholders develop proposals for new stadiums (Bachelor, 1998; Buist & Mason, 2010; Laslo & Judd, 2006). …

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