Spring Training Ready to Descend Upon Florida and Arizona, But at What Cost?
7 Feb, 2018By: Michael Popke
Economic Benefits Can Be Outweighed by Cost of Facilities, Payments to Teams
Many MLB teams open their spring training on February 14, which in some cases, means a sweetheart deal for communities in Arizona and Florida, currently gearing up for an influx of teams and fans that collectively give significant boosts to local economies.
Arizona’s Cactus League, which includes 15 teams, many of which share stadiums, touts Spring Training’s economic boon on its own website:
The stats are in and they are good! According to a pair of studies released by the governor’s office and members of the non-profit Cactus League Baseball Association, spring training baseball has become a driving force in Arizona’s economy. The studies estimate that spring training generates $544 million annually in economic impact for the state of Arizona. Six out of every ten fans attending Cactus League games travel from out-of-town to visit and experience spring training baseball in Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise and Tempe.
The Grapefruit League, comprised of 15 teams that train in Florida and don’t share stadiums, reports an even larger economic impact: More than $750 million, according to a Florida Sports Foundation ad in the2018 Florida Spring Training Guide.
Additionally, Airbnb reported last yearthat all 12 Grapefruit League cities saw “significant spikes” in Airbnb guest arrivals during the five weeks of spring training, compared to the previous five weeks. “Spring training represents a foundational component of the local economies for these 12 Florida cities,” Tom Martinelli, public policy director for Airbnb Florida, said in April 2017. “By expanding lodging capacity for regions with limited hotel inventory, Airbnb hosts helped welcome more families and baseball fans to their cities while serving as ambassadors for their local communities.”
While the communities that host spring training teams are in the money, some of the facilities where those teams play continue to struggle. The $152 million Camelback Ranch opened in Glendale, Ariz., in 2009 as the spring home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, but — thanks to a fizzling local economy and interest rates — the city owed about $331 million on the stadium as of last summer.
When it was originally conceived, Camelback Ranch was to be the centerpiece for one of Glendale’s biggest revenue sources. But plans to develop the land around the Cactus League venue fizzled during the Great Recession. Camelback Ranch has so far been a money pit for Glendale.
“Everything came to fruition, except for the mixed-use project,” Bailey said. “And that was to be the funding source for what was the facility.”
Retail, hotels and a golf course were planned for around Camelback Ranch, which Glendale agreed to build in 2007. But the economy tanked in 2008. The venue opened in 2009, and developers failed to deliver sales tax generators needed to pay for the project.
Now the facility is only projected to bring in $160,000 over the next year, and there’s still no developer.
A similar scenario could have played out in Viera, Fla., especially after the Florida Marlins, then the Montreal Expos and finally the Washington Nationals all moved out of the Brevard County-owned Space Coast Stadium. Instead, “a plan to lease the facility and the adjoining practice field to U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) may end up providing a more sustainable boost to the local economy than spring training did,” according to a recent BallparkDigest.comreport. “The sports-tourism firm is working to fill the ballpark and 15 adjoining fields with enough events to fill 75,000 nights of hotel room rentals annually.”
Starting this month, USSSA will be holding events almost every weekend or full week during 2018 at what’s now known as the USSSA Space Coast Complex. The complex includes 15 baseball and softball fields of various sizes, with artificial turf and lights to accommodate night games.
“It’s going to grow our sports tourism tremendously,” said Tom Bartosek, the Office of Tourism’s tourism operations coordinator and the office’s point person on sports events. “It’s going to have a very big impact, and it’s like nothing we’ve seen. The hotels are going to see it. The restaurants are going to see it. The stores are going to see it. It’s going to be a big economic impact. It’s going to be great.”
“That’s not the only former spring training facility generating economic activity in Florida,” BallparkDigest.com concluded. “Tournaments at Chain of Lakes Park (former Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox spring home) and Cocoa Expo Sports Complex (former Houston Astros and Florida Marlins spring home) are expected to generate some 5,000 nights of hotel reservations. … Add in the former Dodgertown complex in Vero Beach, and you have plenty of old spring-complexes shown new life with sports tourism.”