TEMPE — The president of the Cactus League said Friday that Arizona communities need to continue to invest in the stadiums used by the major league teams that practice and play there.
But Chris Calcaterra said this isn’t being done for the benefit of the team owners, many of whom are billionaires. Instead, he said, the dollars spent to improve the facilities are for the benefit of the fans.
The questions arose Friday as an economic impact study commissioned by the league said the 2023 season generated $418.5 million.
In real terms, the report says, that’s about 4.4% below 2018, the last year there was a full season not interrupted or cancelled by a strike or COVID. And that is caused in part by the fact total attendance this year was down by close to 12%, with fewer games played this year — 216 — versus 231 in 2018.
But even with that, the average attendance per game of 7,246 was still 5.7% lower than five years ago.
According to the study, about 60% of visitors came from out of state who stayed an average of four nights and attended three games. Based on interviews with visitors, the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University figured they spent a total of $345.3 million this year, about $144 million of that on hotels and other accommodations, $77 million at bars and restaurants and the balance on everything from game tickets and souvenirs to rental cars and other entertainment.
The report, however, says overall spending this year of about $421 a day is about $46 less than what Cactus League fans were shelling out in 2018.
“We can never take spring training for granted,” Calcaterra he said.
“To ensure the vitality of the spring training industry in Arizona we must maintain and improve our facilities to meet the ever-changing demands of the industry,” he said. “That requires investment.”
Calcaterra said the report released Friday shows that investment “pays big dividends.” Aside from the revenue generated for local businesses, the report says it produced $36.6 million in state tax revenues and $8.2 million for local governments.
As to public dollars, Calcaterra said that’s necessary for the “strategic plans in updating facilities.” And he said this isn’t a question of benefitting the team owners who have come to see the cash generated from spring training as part of their revenue stream.
“I think the Cactus League is focused on fans and bringing tourism to Arizona,” Calcaterra said. “And that’s where we really stay focused at.”
He said some facilities are “aging.” Calcaterra said the funding is for “making sure we’re first in class and best in class for our fans and fan base.”
“So you’ll see those improvements occur in stadiums and the facilities to keep that action and the attraction for fan bases to come to Arizona,” he said. “The mission of the Cactus League is attracting fans to Arizona.”
Gov. Katie Hobbs, who was at Friday’s event to release the data, said she is focused on what the league does for Arizona, including more than 6,000 jobs and $270 million in wages. And she highlighted the figure that about 60% of the fans surveyed come from outside the state.
“Save for our natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, I can’t think of anything that brings that level of outside interest,” the governor said.
But Hobbs sidestepped the question of the use of tax dollars to build and update facilities designed for teams that are owned by billionaires.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” she said.
The report says the economic benefits are felt beyond Maricopa County where the facilities are located and where those attending the games stay and eat.
It says more than 40% of the fans who come here from other states for spring training visit say they also visit North Central Arizona, the area including Sedona, Prescott, Payson and Globe. That percentage rises to 60% for international visitors, though the number of Cactus League fans among them is much smaller.
A third said they visited or plan to visit Northern Arizona including Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. About a quarter listed Southern Arizona on their plans, with much smaller margins for the rest of the state.
One interesting fact in the report is that spending by out-of-area visitors appears to be linked somehow to the team they are following.
Non-Arizonans coming here for the Diamondbacks spent only about $345 a day . At the other extreme, fans of the San Francisco Giants dropped about $501 each day.