Arizona Republic: Investment is paying off

January 29, 2013

The local family business is doing just fine.

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a pair of studies of the health of the Cactus League facilities in Maricopa County.

The studies found spring training is doing very well at attracting out-of-state fans who come to the Valley primarily to attend spring-training games, as well as fans for events at the ballparks outside of Major League Baseball spring training.

That is especially good news considering the substantial investment Arizona has put into spring-training operations here.
Since passage in 2003 of Proposition 302, which enacted numerous tourist-directed taxes as well as user fees for sporting events, the league has thrived.

It has expanded to 15 teams. It has added four new stadiums, three of which were funded largely with money from Prop. 302.
That good health has spawned Cactus League growth by other means, too.

The league’s success prompted the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to invest a not-so-small fortune in one of the most beautiful spring-training parks ever built, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the springtime home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.

And let us not forget the spring-training phenomenon known as the Chicago Cubs. Yes, it is inexplicable to those of us not from Chicago. But the planned “Wrigleyville” development in Mesa clearly would not be viable without a healthy Cactus League around which to build.

The main study, one commissioned every four or five years by the Cactus League, finds the growth in the number of teams has had a commensurate effect on attendance, which is up nearly 40 percent from 2007, when the last survey was undertaken. Fifty-six percent of the fans came from another state or country.

The survey’s real money stat, however, is also strong: Among out-of-state fans interviewed last spring, 67 percent said their primary reason for coming to the Valley was to attend spring-training games. An additional 20 percent said it was a major incentive for visiting Arizona.

Meaning? Well, it means that all that investment in baseball’s rites of spring are paying off.

Some visitors may have come anyway for the sunshine and the golf. But the majority indicated they would not have visited the Valley if not for spring training, which means more than half of the $230 million those tourists spent in the Valley would have been spent elsewhere if not for a thriving Cactus League.

More to the point, it means Prop. 302’s design model is working efficiently.

The out-of-state fans who rent cars, stay in hotels and pay ticket surcharges are in very large part the ones supporting the cost of stadium construction and remodeling in the Valley.

In all, the two studies find an annual, yearlong economic impact attributable to the Cactus League of $632 million.
Cactus League President Mark Coronado calls his operation “a driving economic engine.” With those kind of numbers, it is hard to disagree.