Vikings stadium focus groups: A follow-up for all to see

Earlier this week, MinnPost obtained a copy of a report about the attitudes of five focus groups on the proposed new Vikings stadium.
 
The sessions were conducted by a survey research firm that was hired by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
 
Because the Commission has been advocating for a new Vikings stadium, some MinnPost readers correctly expressed skepticism that the direction of the focus group leaders may have been biased. After all, the Sports Facilities Commission’s executive director, Bill Lester, and chairman, Roy Terwilliger, have been lobbying at the Capitol for a new $800 million (or so) domed stadium.

Because MinnPost always listens to its reader/users — or, at least, most times does! — we filed a Data Practices Act request Wednesday with the Commission, and this morning obtained the focus group guidelines that were used. See that PDF here.

We also learned that the operation cost the Commission $32,500. (By the way, the bulk of the Commission’s coffers is funded via revenues generated by the Vikings, so that $32,500 fee is, arguably, being paid for by the Vikings.) See that contract here.

The focus group instrument seems to be relatively straightforward. In the draft we obtained, there are some sections — clearly biased — that are highlighted in yellow. Executive director Lester told us this morning that those sections were deleted from the discussion because he found them to be “too leading.”
 
For instance, in describing the Metrodome, the focus group leader was originally to have told the participants: “The current building is very noisy, not very energy efficient, and the roof frequently leaks.”
 
Said Lester: “That was too leading or inaccurate. We took them out.”
 
Lester said he was skeptical of the process because, in some ways, the participants are self-selected. Momentum Analysis sought a demographic cross-section of the state, but only people somewhat motivated to participate were in the groups, of course.
 
See the PDF here of the solicitation script for participants.
 
As Momentum Analysis President Margie Omero wrote about the value of focus group results: “Focus groups are qualitative in nature, and so results are not suited for percentages or statistical testing. These focus groups allowed us to examine the words and phrases participants use when discussing this topic, the depth and breadth of their prior knowledge, and the specific information to which they react. Only a valid survey produces results projectable onto the population at large.”
 
Still, as her report showed, there was a high level of interest in the stadium issue, and a certain sense that it was inevitable that a stadium would get built. Lester was surprised by that.
 
Take a read of the full document (PDF) yourself, and see what you think.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by frank watson on 05/06/2010 - 02:54 pm.

    I want to know why when the Media interviews people coming out of Twins games not one of them thinks it was a bad idea to build with taxpayer money? You would think that public was 100% behind building the Twins Stadium with taxpayer money but yet the taxpayer wasn’t allowed a vote. Focus groups..pffftt.

  2. Submitted by Ross Williams on 05/06/2010 - 04:31 pm.

    I am sure they video recorded the focus group sessions. When are those going to be made public? Then people do their own analysis.

  3. Submitted by William Jewell on 05/06/2010 - 09:04 pm.

    The focus group covered some good issues and would like to raise another. A stadium is a business and the current debate of just a Metrodome site which has done little for tourism over the last 25 years pales in comparison of what business would be generated by a Mall of America Stadium where 40 million people a year visit. Football playoffs, CDH vs. Eden Prairie, with a MOA Stadium would go every year, every Metrodome event would double attendance and would go to watch State HS Track and Field Finals and it all has to do with location and the ability to just not go to an event but make a day of it with other activities.

    Just would like to see it back where it used to be and more information on the abou can be seen at bludog(dot)com.

  4. Submitted by Michael Jefferis on 05/06/2010 - 10:27 pm.

    Granted, focus groups are not fact finding commissions, but even so, the results on the last page of the report (linked above) sounded like propaganda.

    A couple of statements in particular require some objection.

    Many Minnesotans enjoy sports, but “Sports define Minnesota. The Vikings are a crucial part of that self-identification.” No, that’s just too self-serving. Lots of things define Minnesota, and most of them are not begging for a handout.

    They say “The Dome is old, and lacks specialness.” Well sure, the Metrodome is a big white entertainment box, and is totally uninteresting as a container. However, so is the Mall of America (big brown box). A lot of things lack specialness. Tough bounce. “Specialness,” is usually expensive, however, so if people want something special, they should be willing to pay for it. How about attaching a fee to each ticket sold which would go to the Vikings team to pay off their private loan to build the special stadium fans want? (NO PUBLIC MONEY FOR ONE MORE #($*&Q#() STADIUM!)

    The Viking’s departure for someplace else is one of the LEAST paramount issues we face in this time of economic uncertainty.

    The most pressing issue in my mind is “what are we going to do with this white elephant metrodome? House the homeless? A new prison? Raise chickens in it? (It would make a GREAT chicken coop!)

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/07/2010 - 09:05 am.

    Thanks for the additional information Mr. Weiner, I know I feel listened to.

    I’m sorry but no one should be surprised that members of a focus group show a high level of interest in the subject the group is focused on, that’s the point, it’s the job of the facilitator to get them interested, that’s why it’s called a “focus” group. A focus groups level of interest can in no way be extrapolated to the general population.

    You have to remember the whole point of this exercise is to develop an effective marketing strategy, not evaluate public opinion. In this case it’s about finding the most persuasive talking points, and creating most favorable context. This is why you don’t see a question like: “On a scale of one to ten how important to you think a new stadium is”? The flow of the conversation is clearly designed to drive the groups focus towards the Vikings, it’s called shaping.

    You also have to remember that as market researchers the consultants aren’t designing the interview in a vacuum, they know their business and they’ve researched successful campaigns, they’re not starting from scratch. The main thing with stadium campaigns is to not provoke strong public reactions. That’s why you don’t see a point blank question about whether or not public financing is appropriate. The main thing is to make stadiums look like benign public ventures. You’ll notice there’s nothing in this interview that could possibly provoke a strong reaction, like a comparison between stadiums and food shelves.

    The other thing we know about general human psychology is that when you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, it’s best not to give them choice to do or not do, you give them a choice of how to do. Don’t ask “if” the public should finance a stadium, assume the public will finance and ask how much the team should pay. This is how you preserve the illusion of freedom while getting what you want, you make people feel like participants. This interview is designed to drive the group into a place where building the stadium is not the question, the only question is how to build and pay for it, hence the sense of inevitability. That inevitability doesn’t simply emerge, it’s manufactured.

    The thing about this focus group is it’s not so much an attempt to find out what the group thinks, it’s a demonstration of how to shape what the group thinks. First, create a positive emotional affiliation with the Vikings. Second, place the Vikings within a community context that fosters a sense of public ownership and community investment. Third, frame the stadium as a community asset, not just a team asset- reinforce this with the suggestion of dire public consequences of losing the stadium. Forth, link the loss of the team to a loss of public resources in general, i.e. we lose the team we lose the metrodome as well. Fifth, if you accomplish the previous four objectives you will have created a sense of inevitability, you can now focus on the mechanism of building. Sixth, minimize the public costs, it’s only $40 million a year, that’s how much per person? Finally, make the funding appear “fair” i.e. those that benefit the most pay the most. Finally, whatever you do, never never never link or allow a link between the stadium and larger public policy issues, no comparisons between stadium funding and funding other public projects, keep it focused, stay on message.

    There’s nothing in this at all that tell you anything about the level of public interest or support for a new stadium, that’s simply not the function of this exercise. What it does do is point to a successful stadium campaign model that’s really no different than previous campaigns.

    I think it’s interesting that someone thought the weak and noisy question was too leading, but: “The new facility would boost tourism and make Minnesota proud.” isn’t.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/08/2010 - 08:30 am.

    One last observation. It’s also important to remember that this document is itself part of a the marketing campaign. It’s clearly designed to create the impression that Minnesotan’s support public financing of the stadium, even thought it really makes no attempt to actually evaluate that. For instance you see the marketers own propositions i.e. “the stadium will boost the economy” presented as if the focus group spontaneously declared this without much prompting. Likewise the observation that initial gut reactions to building the stadium were positive; neglects to mention that they got that issue after having a warm fuzzy conversation about sports and the Vikings- it was shaped.

    So what we know now is in the absence of debate, conflicting information, or general knowledge about the economy and the impact of stadiums- one can create a favorable impression of a new Vikings stadium. All you have to do is start out with a warm fuzzy sports conversation, pretend there is no controversy, and control the information. This report is a demonstration of how to do that.

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