Cactus League Can Grow With Cooperation from Teams, Host Cities

March 16, 2012
Robert Johnson

For more than 18,000 baseball fans who attended the first ever Scottsdale Baseball Festival kick-off to spring training last month, the event was about their favorite Cactus League teams, food and fun.

To those of us working to promote greater cooperation among host cities and teams, it was a monumental icebreaker that could someday be remembered as the opening we needed to help us finally achieve a stronger, more stable baseball tourism industry.

Over the years, Cactus League boosters have tried to get the baseball clubs and their sponsor communities to work together to promote attendance and excitement in March. But the level of competition and political wrangling between the parties involved always got in the way.

That is until the City of Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Charros, the Cactus League Baseball Association, several Valley cities and 14 of the 15 teams that train here fought through those roadblocks to share common ground one weekend in February.

The result for fans was more than two days of baseball nirvana. The result for boosters was the moment we’ve been waiting for.

Each year, Cactus League box office windows are left with about 900,000 unsold tickets to games in March. That’s nearly one million missed opportunities to attract more tourists, sell more hotel rooms, dish more restaurant meals, hawk more beer and souvenirs and collect more city and state sales tax.

The level of cooperation that finally surfaced in Scottsdale proves what we believe can happen when we work together. It provides a glimpse of what we could achieve if we spent the rest of this year working on an even bigger festival next February. It is a roadmap for how to sell those unsold tickets at ballparks from Goodyear to Mesa, Scottsdale to Surprise.

Obviously putting more fans in the stands would help boost everyone’s bottom line. Taxpayers who own the ballparks will see a better return on their investment. The economy will benefit from the additional support for businesses and their employees. And the teams will see highly profitable merchandise and concessions sales go up.

To the Cactus League, cooperation means more stability and support for the long term health and well-being of an industry that generates at least $362 million in economic activity each spring season.

Soon a group will begin to plan next year’s festival. Certainly the success of the inaugural event will provide a great springboard for a follow-up affair in 2013.

But those who benefit must make certain not to derail those efforts. All fifteen Major League teams and the nine local governments that host them must make certain to consider the historic nature of what happened in Scottsdale last month and cooperate to make sure it happens again… and again.

By working together we can leverage this small but mighty example that is the Scottsdale Baseball Festival to help make our Cactus League industry stronger , boost our tourism economy and ensure ours remains the preferred of baseball’s two spring training circuits.