Cactus League Expects Strong Spring Turnout

March 5, 2012
The Arizona Republic
Peter Corbett

Arizona’s Cactus League is losing spring games to Las Vegas and Tokyo this season, but league officials are confident they can come close to matching last year’s record attendance of 1.59 million fans.

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics will leave the Valley more than a week before the spring season ends for exhibition games in Japan. Plus, the popular Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers will play a pair of prime weekend games in Las Vegas on March 17-18.

Still, the Cactus League, which opened Friday, will have 232 games, weather permitting, through April 4, and ticket sales have been brisk, said Brad Curtis, Cactus League Association president.

“I anticipate another good spring,” said Curtis, noting that teams are reporting double-digit increases in ticket sales.

Attendance at the Cactus League’s first five games on Friday and Saturday averaged 9,215 fans, up from last season’s average of 6,848.

The Colorado Rockies hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields had a sellout crowd of 12,528. The San Francisco Giants hosting a Diamondbacks split squad also had a sellout of 12,127.

Arizona’s 58th spring-training season, with 15 major-league teams playing at 10 Valley stadiums, is a boost to local tourism with close to 60 percent of the fans coming from out of state, according to a 2007 report from FMR Associates of Tucson, the most recent study.

FMR’s report, commissioned by the Cactus League Association and Arizona Office of Tourism, estimated the league’s economic impact on Arizona at $311 million.

Taxpayers have funded the growth in the Cactus League with hundreds of millions of dollars going to new stadiums and practice fields for the teams over the past two decades.

Curtis said the league’s economic boost has grown to $350 million based on a 31 percent surge in attendance over the past five years.

Last year’s attendance jump followed the relocation of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies from Tucson to Salt River Fields on the Salt River Reservation, east of Scottsdale.

The Rockies more than doubled their attendance last year, and the Diamondbacks reported a 90 percent box-office increase, to 189,737 fans.

Derrick Hall, Diamondbacks president, said the team has momentum with fans going into the spring season following its National League West division title.

“There is a good chance we will do better for the spring season,” he said, adding that ticket sales are trending ahead of last spring.

Not only has it been a box-office bonanza, but Hall credits the Salt River Fields complex with improving the team’s strength and conditioning. It’s been a big tool in attracting players, he said.

“It has improved our performance on the field and given us a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining players,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Cactus League, the Los Angeles Angels have attracted their own free-agent superstar in Albert Pujols from St. Louis. That has created buzz for the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Ticket sales are up 20 percent for the Angels, Curtis said.

The league is planning a new economic-impact study with fan surveys during the last two weeks of March.

For the first time, the study also will evaluate the yearlong impact of events at the 10 stadiums and expenditures from the players, training and coaching staffs for the 15 teams throughout the year, Curtis said.

“I think the numbers will be a big eye-opener to people,” he said.

Six Cactus League games are scheduled today at Salt River, Mesa, Peoria, Goodyear, Maryvale (Phoenix) and Surprise. All of today’s games start at 1 p.m. except at Surprise Stadium, where the first pitch is at noon.