More than half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and NBA playoff games are selling out, but a new poll shows that fan attitudes are nowhere near “back to normal.” In a partnership with Harris Poll and in conjunction with a Return to the Stands live event, Sportico surveyed nearly 2,000 people about the state of live sporting events. Here are our findings:
1. Americans previously overestimated their hesitancy to return to live sporting events, but many still feel uncomfortable attending.
Back in January, only 42% of Americans said they would feel comfortable attending an outdoor major league sporting event with a full-capacity crowd if the country had yet to reach herd immunity, even if they personally were fully vaccinated.
Human beings are notoriously bad at predicting their own behavior, and pandemic-related decisions are no exception. Three-fifths (61%) of Americans now say they would be comfortable attending a full-capacity crowd at an outdoor stadium with a mix of vaccinated and non-vaccinated fans. While that number is much higher than five months ago, the data show a greater hesitancy to return to normal than one would expect, based on the playoff atmosphere at a packed Madison Square Garden two weeks ago.
Interestingly, those already vaccinated (56%) are slightly less comfortable attending than those not vaccinated (68%). The majority of people who have yet to be vaccinated are already comfortable doing most things—if being vaccinated would have changed their level of comfort, they likely would have gotten the vaccine already.
Outdoor events are still viewed as notably safer than indoor ones, with just over half (52%) of respondents saying they would be comfortable attending a full-capacity event of mixed vaccination status in an indoor arena.
The vaccination status of other attendees is a game-changer for some, though. 71% say they’d feel comfortable going to a full-capacity event at an outdoor stadium with only vaccinated fans, and 66% would feel comfortable going to a vaccinated-only event in an indoor arena.
In general, support is high for packed stands, as 78% of Americans agree that sporting events should be allowing full-capacity crowds right now. This opinion is shared across genders, age demographics and political parties. Most teams are acting in line with public sentiment, while a select few, such as the Los Angeles Clippers, continue to operate at reduced capacity.
2. Support for vaccine requirements is unchanged since January.
More than three-fifths (63%) of respondents support a requirement that fans provide proof of vaccination to attend a sporting event, unchanged from January 2021 (62%). Similarly, two-thirds (68%) of Americans agree that players and coaches should be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to be eligible, and a nearly identical 67% said the same in January.
Although opinions haven’t changed, they have strengthened. Back in January, 42% of those polled either agreed or disagreed “strongly” with vaccine requirements. That number is now 56%.
Unsurprisingly, more than three-quarters of those who have already received a vaccine support a requirement, while only one quarter of those who won’t get the vaccine do.
There may also be a middle ground with broad-based support: vaccinated-only seating sections. 83% of vaccinated Americans say they would feel safer at a full-capacity venue sitting in a section designated for only vaccinated fans; even 58% of those who are not vaccinated say they would feel safer if they were vaccinated and sitting in a vaccinated only section.
3. A minority of fans still say safety precautions are critical as masks are becoming less popular.
Some Americans still say that a number of innovations to venue sanitation are “critical” to their feeling safe enough to return to stadiums, but the percentage of people who believe such precautions to be necessary has decreased. Still, 49% of fans think that the availability of PPE, such as hand sanitizer and hygiene packages, are essential to the return to stands.
Masks are somewhat going out of fashion. In January, more than half (52%) said they would only feel safe attending if masks were required for fans, but this month, just over one-third (36%) say the same. Similarly, people no longer want to be bothered with testing, as just 18% believe rapid tests upon entry are critical to arena safety.
In general, while there is still some hesitancy among the population to throw themselves into crowded venues, people seem much more comfortable now than they expected to feel five months ago. Back then, just 36% of people said they thought they would feel safe returning to stands before 2022, whereas now, that number is all the way up to 73%.