A valuable piece of the region’s economic impact puzzle came through a simple conversation between then Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell, local homebuilder Brad Curtis and a group of businessmen from Chase Bank a number of years ago.
The Chase folks wanted to know how they could get a block of 20 tickets to sit together for a spring training game at Tempe Diablo Stadium to see their favorite team, the Anaheim Angels.
The group from Chase received their tickets, and the small favor paid off in a big way — and is still paying off for the East Valley.
As a result of the city helping with the ticket accommodations a number of years ago. talks began for Chase to open a call center along Mill Avenue near University in Tempe, according to Curtis.
“Spring training just isn’t about selling tickets anymore,” said Mark Coronado, president of the Cactus League and the director of parks and recreation for the city of Surprise.
The Cactus League and its partners — the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, Arizona Commerce Authority and Arizona Office of Tourism — this week released the results of two year-long studies that showed the overall economic impact during and after the spring training season. The result: $632 million, including $422 million during the season. The latter figure is a significant jump from a figure of $112 million five years ago, the last time such a study was conducted.
The offseason economic impact study was conducted for the first time by Elliott D. Pollack and Company to show the impact of revenue generated — $210 million — through events held at the facilities and other uses.
Tickets sales, lodging, concessions and destination (visiting the Grand Canyon was No. 1) were factored into the economic impact equation for the 15 Major League teams that call Arizona their spring training home, and greatly reflected the increase from the last such study conducted by FMR, a Tucson-based group five years ago.
A marketing advantage
The results of the studies — one for during the spring training season (Late February through early April) and one for the offseason will be instrumental for cities like Mesa and Tempe , the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, respectively, to better fine-tune marketing plans for years to come.
Attendance at spring training games increased 40 percent, from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.7 million in 2012, but Cactus League officials and their partners are working beyond putting fans in the stands.
“We’re working hard to bring more of a corporate image to the Cactus League and not only attract out-of-state visitors, but businesses to Arizona as well,” Coronado added. “We want to know what people are doing when they’re not at the games, where they’re going, and what they’re spending their money on.”
The economic impact just factors in the spending from out-of-state visitors who account for 56 percent of the fans attending the games, according to the study. The San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, respectively, bring in the most fans, according to the study.
And with the 2013 spring training season about two months away, those numbers are only expected to grow as families are visiting the state for an average of 5.3 nights in 2012, up from 4.7 nights in 2007, Cactus League officials and its partners say.
For the last several years, those numbers have been evident in what is posted in the East Valley alone with the Chicago Cubs at Mesa’s Hohokam Park — the perennial top draw of spring training. The Los Angeles Angels saw a 40 percent increase in ticket sales at Tempe Diablo Stadium from 2011 to 2012 after signing superstar Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $250-million-plus contract in 2011.
Coronado added, “Cities are making an investment here for spring training, and we want to see how that investment is paying off.”
Returns on investments
The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which is funded through rental car tax, is expected to reimburse cities such as Goodyear and Surprise up to two-thirds of their investment costs sometime in the next five to seven years, Coronado said.
Tom Sadler, who heads up the Authority, said that the organization hopes to generate $70 million to $80 million by 2018, and that it’s important for cities to get teams to sign long-term leases.
Peoria, which is spring training home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners, is getting ready to begin a $30 million renovation to its facilities off of Bell Road.
Not far behind is the Oakland A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in east Phoenix near the Tempe border. The A’s are scheduled to ink a deal with the City of Mesa to move into Hohokam Park in 2015, a year after the Cubs will open their season in a new $100 million complex at Riverview Park along Dobson Road near Loop 202. The A’s plan to downsize in Hohokam.
“It’s a good sign,” Mark Heirshberg, director of parks and recreation and commercial facilities for Mesa, said of the studies. “To me, it was kind of a surprise because of the way the economy has been for the last few years, but people find a way to bring leisure into their lives. It also speaks to the newer facilities for teams that have been built in recent years.”
“Spring training isn’t just a six-week operation anymore,” Heirshberg added. “Because of weather issues and the lack of space at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Cubs have a constant presence in Mesa. The team does all of its rehabbing here for players, and there’s lodging, food and transportation costs involved with that.”
Curtis, a past president of the Cactus League and a member of the Tempe Diablos — the volunteer civic group which helps oversee operations at the Tempe stadium — was quick to point out that most of the families visiting Arizona for spring training games can afford to spend $300 or more a day when at the ballpark.
“It’s all about out-of-state spending,” Curtis said of the economic impact of spring training. “The average income of a family who visits Arizona for spring training is $90,000, and that’s important. The state as a whole is benefitting from spring training, not just cities, and it’s important to market the whole state.”
The FMR study was based on more than 3,000 interviews with spring training fans at games during the 2012 season and was the fifth such study conducted every five years beginning in 1993.
Both studies were funded by the Cactus League, the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Office of Tourism.
“We’re grateful for what the teams provide,” said Mark Stanton, director for the Arizona Office of Tourism. “We’re looking forward to the next spring training season and its economic impact. We’re looking at this as a home run.”
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