Brief • 2 min Read
Public funding for sports stadiums stretches back decades, with decidedly mixed results for professional sports teams and taxpayers. Amid a rash of NFL and MLB teams discussing potential new stadium construction and renovation projects, the merits of taxpayer funding have again spurred public conversations. That said, major league sports teams provide more than economic benefits to their local communities—at least according to a recent Harris Poll survey of 1,053 American adults. Does that influence their beliefs regarding subsidies and other preferential treatment for professional sports teams? Here are some of the key insights that emerged from our poll.
Americans generally see the value in both local sports and local urban development…
Eight in 10 U.S. adults (84%) at least somewhat agree that urban development projects are a good way to attract new residents and businesses to an area. This is similar to our December 2022 polling of Chicagoans—conducted in relation to the Chicago Bears’ prospective move to Arlington Heights—which found 82% of city residents and 81% of Cook County suburban residents in agreement.
Eight in 10 (82%) Americans similarly agree that sports are an important part of a city’s culture. This is similar among residents of Cook County (85%, including 82% of city residents and 89% of suburbanites). As teams consider new stadiums or perhaps even moving to cities that welcome them with public funding, the question may become: How do you measure a “return on culture?”
Seven in 10 (69%) at least somewhat agree that they are a fan of the professional team(s) in their area (this excludes those who report not having a team to support).
…but most think a sports organization should foot the bill for its own stadium.
On a philosophical level, only half (56%) of Americans agree that funding the construction of stadiums for professional sports teams is a good use of public funds, with 44% disagreeing. Comparatively, 86% agree that if a team takes on public debt to fund stadium construction, it should be required to pay off the balance in full before being allowed to relocate.
Rarely is a stadium funded with 0% or 100% public funding. It’s often a mix of private and public funds. Our survey asked how professional sports stadiums should be funded:
- With only public funding (i.e., from local or state taxpayers): 4%
- With mostly public funding and some private funding (i.e., from the teams utilizing the stadiums): 7%
- With equal parts public and private funding: 25%
- With mostly private and some public funding: 31%
- With only private funding: 23%
- Not at all sure: 9%
A majority (54%) of Americans believe that stadiums should be mostly (31%) or fully (23%) paid for by private parties (namely, the teams utilizing those stadiums). A quarter (25%) say that the bill should be split equally between public and private parties, and only 11% think taxpayers should pay for most (7%) or all (4%) of stadium costs. Americans often have emotional attachments to their local professional sports teams, but they are split on whether that should influence the use of their taxpayer dollars. It’s already difficult to measure the economic impact of sports teams on a local area. How to measure the return on culture that four in five Americans think sports have on their cities’ cultures is even more elusive.
This survey was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll from August 25, 2023 to August 28, 2023 among 1,053 US adults, aged 18+. Figures were weighted where necessary to align with actual proportions within the population. For additional information, please contact The Harris Poll’s Central Insights research team.
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