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Poll: Vaccine Changes Attitudes on Sports Attendance

Andy Berg

The possibility of receiving an effective COVID-19 vaccine has sports fans more enthusiastic about returning to the stands, according to a new poll from Seton Hall.

As the pandemic began to take hold in April 2020, a Seton Hall Sports Poll asked respondents if they would attend a live sporting event – 72 percent said “No.”

In the poll completed this week, only 41 percent said “No” to attending an outdoor sporting event while 49 percent said “No” to indoors.

Although both questions posited social distancing and PPE as a condition of attending, the most recent poll asked respondents if they would attend if they also had received a coronavirus vaccine.

“Now that the vaccine is no longer an abstraction but a reality, people are beginning to seek some form of normalcy,” said professor Charles Grantham, director of the Center for Sport Management within the Stillman School of Business, which oversees the Seton Hall Sports Poll. “This is certainly encouraging for sports leagues and their players, who last March could see no end in sight."

The poll was conducted January 22-25 among 1,522 adults, geographically spread across the country. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent.

In this week’s poll, 40 percent said that if they received a coronavirus vaccine they would attend an outdoor event with personal protection equipment, social distancing measures and restricted attendance. This is up from 28 percent when the question was asked in November, but without access to a vaccine. In April 2020, only 25 percent said they would attend.

As for attending an indoor event, 32 percent say they would attend now (with similar safety precautions), as opposed to just 21 percent in November 2020.

“While our poll asked specifically about sporting events, it likely carries over to concert and theater venues and other audience events coming along on the calendar,” according to Stillman professor of marketing and poll methodologist Daniel Ladik. “There’s reason to be hopeful.”

The poll also asked respondents what type of spokesperson would be most persuasive in convincing U.S. citizens to take the COVID-19 vaccine and were asked to select their top three options. While the selections were wide-ranging, “a medical professional” was the most cited figure, (58 percent), with “a government official” placing a distant second, named in the top three by 30 percent. A “religious leader” tied with a “local or community leader” at 25 percent, followed by a “famous/popular athlete” at 21 percent.

When asked to suggest specific names, hundreds emerged. Among the sports figures named were Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Bill Belichick, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Mike Trout, Drew Brees, Michael Phelps and soccer stars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.

“From the results of this poll it would seem that the vaccine can make a real difference in sporting event attendance,” said Grantham. “And given the influence players may have on a substantial segment of the public, it would seem to be in the best interests of the leagues, their players – and society at large – to encourage their players and coaches to vaccinate publicly. The San Antonio Spurs and USA Olympics Basketball Coach Gregg Popovich is an excellent example of much needed leadership on this issue.”

Also covered in the polls was whether athletes should have priority for receiving the coronavirus vaccine, and there was little difference between the responses for pro and college athletes, with only 19 percent saying “Yes” for priority for professionals and 22 percent saying “Yes” for college players. For pros, 64 percent said “No,” while it was 62 percent for college.

Among those who identified themselves as avid fans, 35 percent said “Yes” to pro athletes getting vaccine priority and 38 percent said “Yes” for college athletes.

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