In 1996, Seattle Seahawks owners announced plans to move the team to California. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen stepped forward and said he would purchase the team if the state would enter into a public-private partnership to build a new stadium facility. The measure would require a statewide vote to allow public participation in financing.
Voters were skeptical of funding another sports facility just a year after the legislature approved a new baseball stadium. Early polling showed the measure likely to fail with just 30% voting “yes” to 60% “no” and 10% undecided. Comprehensive focus group research showed there was a path to success if followed correctly, but voters had to understand a few key details about the measure before they would even consider it. These included the fact that 1) the measure would not raise a single sales, property or general tax; 2) stadium users, lottery game players and visitors would pay most of the tax; 3) Paul Allen would contribute $100 million; 4) he would pay for any cost overruns; and 5) the public would own the stadium.
The communications campaign, backed by an extensive television advertising effort, communicated the messaging sequence to first deliver these key facts, thereby allowing “no” voters to move to undecided, then making a strong positive appeal to bring undecided voters over to support of the plan.
On June 17, 1997 a statewide ballot registered 51% voting in favor of the measure, 49% voting against. In 2002 the Seahawks hosted their first home game in the new stadium.