Shortened Spring Training season cost region millions The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Shortened Spring Training season cost region millions

Shortened Spring Training season cost region millions

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

The 2020 Cactus League season was on its way to slamming another home run for Arizona’s economy before the ball seemingly struck a tall new wall named COVID-19 and nosedived, according to a study released last week.

COVID-19 was an insurmountable obstacle but even the abbreviated season produced an estimated economic impact of $363.6 million, according to a study by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

A similar study in 2018 found an estimated economic impact of $644.2 million.

“Even with a severely curtailed season, the Cactus League delivered significant economic benefit for Arizona,” Cactus League President Chris Calcaterra said. “The pandemic’s impact on the state’s tourism industry has made it abundantly clear that we can’t take Spring Training for granted.”

League Executive Director Bridget Binsbacher said the study shows the substantial return on the investment in Cactus League facilities, which have been criticized from time to time for their cost.

But the shutdown gave Arizona a reminder of what it would be like economically without the Cactus League, one of the state’s greatest economic assets, she said.

“There’s no new threat under our noses but we can’t take it for granted,’’ Binsbacher said.

“We’re up there with the Super Bowl and the Final Four, and we do it year after year,’’ she added. “I think our communities sometimes think it’s automatic and it’s not.’’

Because Mesa hosts two teams at two different city-owned stadiums, the Cubs at Sloan Park and the Oakland Athletics at Hohokam Stadium, the impact may have been even more severe in the East Valley’s largest city.

The Cubs traditionally are the league’s attendance champions, luring coveted out-of-state fans from the frozen Midwest annually to pack Cactus League stadiums and to spend plenty of money on vacation. The league’s attendance dropped to 912,956 fans, with 139 of 237 scheduled games played.

Last year, the Cubs once again were the league’s meal ticket, drawing 250,893, while the league overall drew 1,737,9975, a slight decline from 2018.

About six out of 10 fans come from out-of-state, the study concluded. The median Cactus League party (excluding Maricopa and Pinal residents) attended three games and spent $335.71 per day. Out-of-state and international visitors stayed in the Valley a median of five days.

A Mesa budget official has described the Cactus League as a “second Christmas’’ for the city in high season sales and bed tax revenue.

The shutdown shocked the Mesa HoHoKams, who annually sponsor the Cubs and Athletics in spring training.

“We didn’t know what to do. They basically just shut down. It was pretty drastic from our standpoint,’’ said Steve Adams, the HoHoKams new president.

The timing was especially bad as the shutdown came just as the weather warmed up and sellout crowds started being recorded with fans from the Midwest arriving for the month on March 1, he said.

“Over the years, the first part of the season is really slow, especially when we start in February,’’ Adams said.

Now, the HoHoKams are like everyone else in the Cactus League – hoping a proven vaccine will arrive in time so that fans can return next year.

He said teams are using computer models to set up contingency plans to accommodate social distancing if necessary.

The worst-case scenario would be something similar to this MLB regular season, with Cactus League games played for the purpose of getting players into condition, but without fans.

“Our hope is that there’s a good vaccine and we can start filling up the ballparks again,’’ Adams said. “I’m hoping to get close to unrestricted,’’ with maybe only party decks shut down.

Michelle Streeter, a spokesperson for Visit Mesa, the city’s tourism arm, is also hoping for a rebound in 2021.

“No one in the visitor industry could have anticipated the drastic and immediate impacts the threat of novel coronavirus would have on all we do and all we measure,” she said.

“Visit Mesa was amid yet another record-breaking year of booked hotel room nights. Like so many of our dedicated Mesa businesses and visitor industry colleagues, Arizona’s tourism community was in full throttle last March.

“We are proud of the efforts we did enact to continue to support Mesa during the shutdown and know the measures taken were to protect our valued guests, many of which were spring training baseball fans, and our citizens.” 

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