Cactus League Attendance Rises for Almost Every Team, Boosting Valley Tourism

April 11, 2012
The Arizona Republic
Peter Corbett

Cactus League baseball hit a new attendance record of 1.68 million fans this spring with one game to play today at Salt River Fields.

Average attendance was up for 14 of the 15 teams in the Valley — it dipped 1.23 percent for the Colorado Rockies — and overall attendance increased 5.6 percent over last year’s record season, according to preliminary figures from the Cactus League Association.

The Arizona Diamondbacks sold out 14 of their 16 games at Salt River Fields and attracted 186,828 fans for 16 games.

Good weather in early March and the buzz created by slugger Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish boosted the box office, said Brad Curtis, association president.

“I really can’t complain,” Curtis said of the spring season. “A lot of good things happened.”

Cactus League crowds in five weeks surpassed the regular-season attendance in 2011 for three major league teams in their home markets — the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics.

Cactus League officials say bigger crowds at the Valley’s 10 stadiums are encouraging for tourism and the economy.

“Hopefully it’s a sign that things are turning around,” said Dave Dunne, Salt River Fields general manager.

A fan survey this spring at the ballparks will measure how many visitors attended games and how much they spent during their visits.

The Cactus League Association estimates that spring baseball contributes $360 million to the local economy, a figure disputed by some economists.

Visitors last year helped push the Valley’s hotel occupancy in March to 83 percent, and that figure could be higher this year, Curtis said.

Visiting fans at the Diamondbacks game Monday against the Chicago Cubs at Salt River Fields were enjoying the sunshine despite some gusty winds.

John Hertko, a frequent spring visitor from Joliet, Ill., said he typically attends two to three games during his visits.

“They know how to do it right down here with the tourism,” said the retired chiropractor. “And the weather here is No. 1.”

A group of tailgating Wisconsin fans who winter in Apache Junction turned up for their first visit to Salt River Fields.

“Tell them to lower ticket prices and beer prices, and we’ll all come out to more games and drink more beer,” said Harold Reader, 73, of Rhinelander, Wis.

Cactus League prices are up, but fans such as Robert Scott of the San Tan Valley area said the tickets are still a bargain compared to regular-season games at Chase Field.

The Diamondbacks led the Cactus League and Florida’s Grapefruit League with an average attendance of 11,677, said Dunne. That is up 4.6 percent from last year.

The Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium saw the biggest increase with 47 percent more fans this season.

The six East Valley teams — the Diamondbacks, Angels, Cubs, Rockies, San Francisco Giants, and Athletics — accounted for about 52 percent of 15-team league attendance.

But all nine of the West Valley teams reported attendance increases, led by the Cleveland Indians with a 25 percent jump.

Curtis said he would like to see attendance improve for the Indians and Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark, the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park and Athletics at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. All four teams averaged fewer than 5,800 fans per game.

The league average was 7,420, in 227 games up 8.3 percent from a year ago.