What happens when voters say ‘no’ to new stadiums?

Voter rejection of a stadium sales tax plan for the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs has raised questions about what happens next. They're not the first teams to face such questions.



April 4, 2024 - 1:05 PM

An aerial file image of Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by The Kansas City Star / TNS

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Like a loss in the playoffs, voter rejection of a stadium tax plan will force the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs to reevaluate their approach.

The defeat Tuesday of a three-eighths cent sales tax to fund a new downtown Royals ballpark and renovate the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium was almost assuredly not the end of the matter. Other teams and cities have faced similar setbacks, and that hasn’t slowed a wave of stadium construction underway across the U.S.

“The next page in the playbook, if they lose this referendum, would be to threaten to move,” said Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at West Virginia University, who researches sports stadiums.

But that doesn’t mean relocation is imminent, or even likely.

Moving to a new stadium within the same region or another state is just one of several options. Teams could tweak their plans and ask voters again. They could build or renovate stadiums without public funds. Or they could avoid a referendum by seeking approval for public subsidies directly from a legislative body such as a city council, county commission or state legislature.

“Usually, team owners just find a new way to get money, and they’ll go the legislative route,” said Geoffrey Propheter, an associate public finance professor at the University of Colorado Denver. “Rarely do team owners just straight up leave.”

Photo by Pixabay.com


From 1990 through 2023, voters cast ballots on 57 stadium and arena proposals across the country, approving 35 and rejecting 22, according to data compiled by Propheter.

In December, Oklahoma City voters overwhelmingly approved a 1% sales tax for six years to help fund a new downtown arena for the NBA’s Thunder that is expected to cost at least $900 million.

But last May, voters in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe rejected a proposal for a $2.3 billion entertainment district that would have included a new arena for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. The defeat marked the latest seatback for the hockey team, which underwent a 2009 bankruptcy and is currently playing in a 5,000-seat arena shared with Arizona State University.

The Coyotes haven’t given up on the Phoenix area yet. The team is looking into bidding on a 95-acre tract in north Phoenix.


Public subsidies for stadiums and arenas often get approved by elected officials without going on the ballot.

Last year, the Nashville City Council approved $760 million in local bonds to go along with $500 million in state bonds — all to help finance a new $2.1 billion football stadiumfor the Tennessee Titans. There was no public referendum.

Construction also began last year on a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills that’s projected to cost more than $1.6 billion. A total of $850 million is coming from New York and Erie County, with no public referendum.