San Diego Padres Ballpark & Redevelopment Initiative 1997

Background We began working with owners of the San Diego Padres in August 1997 on a proposal for construction of a new ballpark. The Padres’ lease at Qualcomm Stadium was due to expire in 1999, and the team could not continue operating in the San Diego market without the revenues generated by a new facility.

The political climate was problematic for voter approval of a new ballpark because of the city council’s controversial 1996 agreement with the San Diego Chargers to expand Qualcomm Stadium and extend the Chargers’ lease, an agreement in which the city agreed to guarantee the sale of 60,000 general admission tickets for each Chargers’ home game.

Strategy We recommended that any agreement for public financing of a new ballpark would need to be significantly different from the Chargers agreement, which was perceived by voters to have been a “back room” deal. We guided the team owners through a review process that included two citizen task forces, negotiations, city council approval of a Memorandum of Understanding, and a citywide election.

Based on initial public opinion research, we strongly recommended inclusion of the ballpark as part of a larger downtown redevelopment project, a project our research showed enjoyed much broader support than the ballpark alone. We recommended a full and open public review process prior to council approval of the agreement, clear limits in the agreement on public financing, and requirements that made the Padres responsible for ancillary development in the ballpark district and cost overruns in ballpark construction.

We further recommended that team owners step back and allow members of a citizens’ committee to act as spokespersons during the subsequent election campaign. We developed campaign messages that focused debate on the redevelopment project, and built a broad and diverse coalition of support for the measure.

Results Daily public opinion tracking polls permitted us to make minor adjustments in message and targeting of television and direct mail over the final month of the campaign. Specifically, we were able to reverse low levels of support among voters 60 years and older by using television advertising to emphasize support for the project from police and fire fighters, and by direct mail targeted to women 35-54, who initially opposed the project but eventually supported it by a wide margin.

The result of these communications efforts was a larger-than-predicted 60% victory on Election Day. Approval of the ballpark marked the first time in U.S. history that such a facility was approved by voters on the first try.