Time to maximize the Cactus League experience
March 6, 2013
The Arizona Republic
Every year, Arizona hosts the rough equivalent of a Super Bowl.
That’s how important spring training is to state’s economy. This windfall, estimated at more than $400 million for the Cactus League season alone (more than $600 million including the ballparks’ year-round activities) should be protected in both the short and long terms.
The major fix that needs state and local leaders’ attention is a permanent funding source for continuing stadium improvements, lest spring training continue to lurch from one revenue puzzle to another.
Rental-car and general sales-tax levels are at the breaking point. Other revenue sources should be targeted by the state Legislature, notably hotels, restaurants and casinos. These are areas that hit a desirable cross-section of tourists, part-time and full-time residents.
Once a permanent funding source is secured, the Cactus League should go after a 16th team in the short term, 18 for the long run. The current odd-numbered arrangement of 15 teams leaves too many split-squad games so eight games can be played daily.
This leaves fans hesitant to commit to a game because they’re wondering if they’ll see the marquee players.
The eventual targets should include the St. Louis Cardinals, who dominate baseball interest in several Midwestern states and would instantly rank as one of the Cactus League’s marquee teams.
Other possibilities include the Minnesota Twins, who — like the Cardinals — are roughly the same distance from Arizona as they are from their current setup in Florida. Also, the Toronto Blue Jays make sense because of the vast number of Canadians who spend partial years in Arizona.
The present alignment of teams has nine in the West Valley with just six on the east side. The imbalance could be corrected if the Gila River Indian Community, which made a run at landing the Arizona Diamondbacks, could land a couple of teams, the way the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community lured the D-Backs and Colorado Rockies by agreeing to build the dazzling Salt River Fields.
Other communities that should explore spring training, either separately or jointly, are Chandler and Gilbert.
Both are among the nation’s 100 largest cities. Combined, they make up nearly a half-million people. As the recession ends, it’s time for leaders of these communities to start thinking big. If the relatively small West Valley town of Goodyear can host two teams, surely Chandler/Gilbert can land at least one.
Teams much do much more to attract young people.
Studies have shown that spring-training crowds have grown older in recent years. That’s not surprising, considering that ticket prices now rival those for regular-season Major League Baseball games.
That means teams must take the long view, offering substantial discounts for students at universities and community colleges.
At the very least, they should offer half-price tickets for young people at least one day a week (Fridays should work, for sure).
Along the same lines, Sundays should be a family day, with discounts for children.
These concepts won’t work, though, if only a few teams participate.
Cities should follow Scottsdale’s lead and promote the Cactus League through spring-training kickoff festivals that feature food, interactive games and other fun activities.
The Valley is the world capital for spring-training baseball. State and local leaders need to understand this and capitalize.