A letter to the editor posted online Nov. 2 questioned the benefits of spring training to Surprise and its residents. I wanted to provide some insight to help answer that question.
Surprise Stadium was built in 2002, and the city recovered two-thirds of the original stadium cost through the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. This allowed us to bring the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals to Surprise for their first spring training season in 2003.
All of the Major League Baseball teams that play in Arizona for spring training are part of the Cactus League. Each year, the Cactus League works with the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business to determine the economic impact of spring training to the state. The institute’s latest study showed the 2023 Cactus League season generated $418.5 million for Arizona’s Gross Domestic Product and $710.2 million in total economic activity. Surprise gets a share of that economic impact.
Tourists eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and stay at our hotels. The sales tax and bed tax that is generated goes to our city’s General Fund, which pays for things like police and fire services, park amenities and road projects. These are essential services for our residents that get additional funding as a result of spring training visitors.
Now that the Texas Rangers are the 2023 World Series champions, we are hopeful to see an even bigger boost to our spring training attendance. When our other home team, the Kansas City Royals, won the 2015 World Series, we saw about a 20% increase in game attendance the next season — the highest attended spring training season we have ever had in Surprise.
We call the Rangers and Royals our home teams, because they really do make Surprise their home year-round. The teams have each built and funded their own housing facilities across from Surprise Stadium, investing in our city because they have players and staff here all throughout the year. The teams host MLB Arizona Complex League and MLB Fall League at Surprise Stadium, in addition to spring training, all of which fans can attend.
The stadium complex also hosts a number of non-MLB events, from college baseball tournaments to national youth baseball tournaments. Hundreds of teams and thousands of fans spend their tourism dollars here in Surprise every year.
Surprise hosted over 800 non-MLB baseball games just this summer, attracting visitors to our community during non-peak times. The city has continued to increase year-round usage of the facilities and is focused on generating additional sales tax dollars for the community. Since 2018, the hotel and transient lodging sales tax has increased over 95% with the creation of the Sports and Tourism Department.
The stadium complex is also used by the Parks and Recreation Department. Thousands of youth residents get to utilize the facilities for t-ball, baseball, soccer, football and kickball, as well as local community events like Surprise Party and the Independence Day Celebration. In addition, Ottawa University uses the complex as their home facility. All of these activities keep the facilities in use more than 300 days a year; and over 475,000 participants, fans and visitors utilize the campus on an annual basis.
I love the tourism impact that our stadium brings, but I also love that the stadium serves our residents. It’s amazing that we get to catch MLB action in our hometown… and with special resident discounts.
Our residents also get to use the facilities year-round through sports programs and community events that provide a variety of amenities to our residents. Plus, the spring training nonprofit organization, the Surprise Sundancers, has raised and donated over $1 million to the community through youth college scholarships and other nonprofit programs in the West Valley.
I assure you that serving our residents is the City Council’s top priority, and we are thankful for the spring training tourism dollars that help us to serve you better.
Skip Hall is the mayor of Surprise. Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at AzOpinions@iniusa.org.