Follow the Leader: The Effect of Elite Support on Ballot Referendums for Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Since the 1960s, most professional sports facilities have been financed through a mix of private and public funds. Team owners contribute private capital to the project, but the majority of the funding comes from the taxpayer. These public dollars are drawn from the supplementation of existing taxes, or the creation of new taxes in the cities or surrounding counties where the sports franchise operates, and are usually subject to a public vote. In most cases, local citizens do not support the use of taxpayer dollars to fund professional sports stadium subsidies. Previous research demonstrates that the local politicians and corporate executives who benefit from hosting a professional sports franchise can influence voter opinion by reframing the tax increases as a means to remain a “major league city,” and by claiming that the economic value of the project will exceed its costs. In this paper, I argue that local political and corporate elites employ their respective strengths and influence to create a positive frame of stadium subsidies for professional sports franchises and thus generate voter support for these subsidies. I examine the legislative processes that provided public funding for the football and baseball stadiums built in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the late 1990s. I then use these two cities as a basis for comparison to modern cases in Arlington, San Diego, and Las Vegas, three cities that are currently negotiating financing terms on new professional sports stadiums.