Study: Cactus League offers $810 million lift to metro Phoenix economy

September 10, 2015
Arizona Republic
Ronald J. Hansen

Cactus League baseball and its facilities helped wash an estimated $810 million through the Valley’s economy in the past year, up 29 percent from three years ago, a pair of studies released Thursday found.

Spring training directly brought in nearly $300 million from outside the Valley earlier this year, and more through indirect and presumed spending, the first report said. Baseball’s year-round operations and other uses for the stadiums helped bring in about $266 million, a second report found.

Together, the reports suggest an economic basis for the public subsidy baseball gets from taxpayers. It also puts a dollar figure to the reality of life in the Valley in March, when hotels and restaurants are buzzing with visitors.

“The Cactus League is growing stronger by the year and it’s a major contributor to Arizona’s economy,” said Gov. Doug Ducey during a news conference.

Of particular importance, 58 percent of fans who attend the spring games come from outside the Valley, bringing new money into the area.

The reports, conducted by FMR Associates of Tucson, found that two thirds of out-of-town visitors stayed in hotels, motels or resorts. About 56 percent rented a vehicle and more than a third of them took in other sightseeing activities during their stay. Add in the impact of drinking, dining and other shopping, and baseball’s impact is sizable.

Beyond that, the Cactus League’s 15 teams maintain a presence in the Valley after spring training. Injured players rehabilitate here and younger players play games after the spring. The stadiums are also used for concerts and amateur baseball games throughout the year.

“It’s basically like having a Super Bowl every year,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

A 2009 study estimated Florida’s Grapefruit League pumped $750 million into that state’s economy. Since then, the Cactus League plucked the Cincinnati Reds from Florida.

The economic impact on Arizona’s individual cities for the new reports was calculated as part of the studies but was not publicly released.

Overall, East Valley communities, especially Scottsdale, have collected far more in visitor spending, from hotels, restaurants and shopping even though more teams play on the west side.

Baseball has long been a profitable draw in Scottsdale, home to the popular San Francisco Giants and near the facilities shared by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.

Meanwhile, cities like Goodyear and Glendale have labored to finance their stadiums, which haven’t boosted consumer traffic enough to support tourist amenities to rival those in Scottsdale.

The studies come as Arizona taxpayers may need to weigh further subsidies for professional sports.

The Maryvale facility used by the Milwaukee Brewers, for example, is relatively old, small and outmoded by today’s standards.

Phoenix may be pressed to replace its downtown arena for basketball’s Phoenix Suns. And after this year’s public battle between Glendale officials and the Arizona Coyotes, that team’s long-term future has been questioned.

A pair of court rulings in the past year have undercut the longstanding rental-car taxes that have helped fund the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, the agency that directs public funding to projects like the University of Phoenix Stadium and the Cactus League ballparks.