In 2012, the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Office of Tourism, Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, Cactus League Association, and a coalition of municipalities that host the Cactus League funded two different studies, conducted by Elliott D. Pollack & Co. and FMR Associates of Tucson, to examine the economic impact of the Arizona Cactus League. The studies revealed that Spring Training and the Cactus League facilities continue to benefit Arizona significantly, as overall attendance and revenue to the state have increased significantly since a similar 2007 study.
According to the studies, over 1.7 million people accounted for overall attendance, 56 percent of whom were visiting from out of state. That means exhibition baseball games brought in over 950,000 tourists to Arizona in 2011, an impressive haul for games sometimes featuring split squads and players bound for the minors.
The studies revealed that the median length of stay was 5.3 nights, with fans spending about $300 a day. Those are valuable imported dollars flowing into Arizona that states in the polar vortex wish they had.
Spring Training is getting bigger and better. The studies estimate that during Spring Training the Cactus League is responsible for over $420 million of total revenue in Arizona. When the original study was conducted, Arizona hosted only 12 of the 30 major league teams. In 2009, however, three teams moved out west and joined the Cactus League, giving both leagues an even 50/50 share.
But the good news doesn’t stop when teams pack up and head home. The league’s facilities accounted for additional revenue for the state through a number of off-season events like concerts, baseball tournaments, festivals, races, and a number of other profitable functions. In total, the Cactus League has an annual impact of $632 million, and the latest attendance numbers suggest that number is only getting bigger.
The rapid increases in attendance and revenue should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s had a chance to check out a game recently at any of the great ballparks in the Phoenix area. I had the thrill a few weeks ago of throwing out the first pitch at the Goodyear complex shared by the Indians and Reds, and I was blown away by the incredible amenities and the access fans have to their favorite players. (This lefty fireballer is still available for a bargain price to start the season, by the way.) That park along with Salt River Fields, Camelback Ranch and the new Cubs ballpark in Mesa are absolute gems.
We are able to host and benefit from these facilities because Arizona offers an ideal atmosphere for baseball this time of year, and proves a more desirable destination than Florida’s older Grapefruit League for both the fans and the teams.
Unlike Florida, Arizona is able to offer both terrific weather and all the stadiums within a 25-mile radius, allowing for fans and scouts to see multiple games in a single trip. The convenience (and lack of giant Florida bugs) gives the Cactus League the win by a long-shot.
But the numbers make clear that the Cactus League is about more than baseball and tourism; we should think of it as its own industry, vital to Arizona’s economic success. Remember that Spring Training in Arizona was created as a business-generation push by local civic leaders who saw the power of baseball to lure both tourists and business owners to the sunny desert environment. It was about more than tourism when it began and it should be today as well.
The mild temps are nice, but we offer so much more to distinguish ourselves to businesses looking to expand. We shouldn’t rely on nice weather alone to support this industry. Palm Springs has nice weather, too, after all. Other communities would love to get a piece of the Cactus League pie. We should keep our guard up.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.