The U.S. surpassed 20 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered this past weekend, but a new poll indicates that vaccination alone may not be sufficient for Americans to feel comfortable among large crowds. In a partnership with Harris Poll, Sportico surveyed nearly 2,000 people about a potential return to live sporting events. Here are our findings:
1. Most Americans will be wary of live sporting events until after we reach herd immunity.
Two-thirds of Americans will not be comfortable in a full-capacity indoor arena (67%) or outdoor stadium (64%) for a sporting event until they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine, and the majority will still not be comfortable until the country reaches herd immunity.
The fear of attending sporting events with crowds, whether outdoors or indoors, is significant across political affiliations. Those who regularly attend sporting events feel a little more comfortable, in part because they tend to skew younger. Older generations are more wary, as the virus puts them at greater risk of hospitalization or death.
With trepidation surrounding large gatherings, there is an even divide regarding whether sporting events should allow in-person fans in any capacity right now: 51% say fans should be allowed, while 49% say they should not. Regular attendees are more likely to be in favor, however: 63% of those who attended five or more sporting events in 2019 say that in-person fans should be allowed right now. Interestingly, there is no difference in opinion between those planning to get a vaccine and those who are not.
2. There is public support for vaccine requirements.
Three-fifths (62%) of people polled agree fans should be required to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend a sporting event, including 70% of regular sports attendees. Even more Americans (67%) and frequent sports attendees (72%) agree that players and coaches should be required to receive a vaccine.
Democrats are more likely to support such strict vaccination requirements than Republicans, but a majority of both political parties are in support (76% and 53%, respectively, for required fan vaccination).
Surprisingly, 39% of those who do not plan to get the vaccine themselves are in support of venues’ requiring fans to be vaccinated. The exact same percentage (39%) say that they would get a vaccine if their employer mandated it (the other 61% say they would quit). These numbers indicate that many people who aren’t planning to get vaccinated still recognize that it is the only path to controlling the virus, and that they may have to get it if necessary.
3. Expectations for the full fan experience to return in 2021 are low.
While a “return to normalcy” is in sight, only 36% expect it will be safe enough for full-capacity crowds to return to large venues sometime in 2021 (8% before summer 2021, 11% during summer 2021, and 17% during fall 2021). Slightly more (45%), but still less than half, of fans who attended at least one game in 2019 expect full crowds to be safe sometime in 2021.
4. A variety of safety measures will be necessary to ensure that fans feel safe attending games.
Americans say that a number of innovations to venue sanitation are “critical” to their feeling safe enough to return to stadiums, with more than half saying that requiring face masks and having hand sanitizer and masks available are critical precautions. Unsurprisingly, Boomers tend to more strongly support precautions than their younger counterparts.
One-quarter (24%) of people say that adjusting seating configuration (family seating, antibody-positive sections, glass dividers, etc.) is the single most important fan safety innovation for making them feel comfortable attending games, with entry (temperature scans, health screening, etc.) and venue sanitation coming in second and third, respectively. Most people don’t believe that contactless interactions, whether ticketing or concessions, is the most necessary step to making stadiums and arenas safe.
5. Regular attendees are eager to get back to stadiums.
While the general public is almost exactly split over whether they plan to attend live sporting events more or less frequently after the pandemic than before, 44% of those who attended at least five events in 2019 say they are more likely to attend, versus only 26% who say they are less likely. A similar mindset is observed among young people.
6. Regular attendees are more likely to get the vaccine.
As sports venues look to get fans back into seats, they should be pleased to know that 78% of those who attended at least five events in 2019 are planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine, versus just 68% of the general public.