Cactus League windfall goes far beyond turnstiles

Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

Editor’s Note: This story is from the 2017 Independent Newsmedia Spring Training guide.

Spring training revenues continued to grow at the turnstiles in Northwest Valley ballparks in 2016, and early signs for 2017 ticket sales are promising.

But the ripple effects of spring training on local economies and the year-round engine provided by these complexes often are overshadowed by the game experience.

West Valley destinations also see an overlap since half of the 10 Cactus League parks and nine of its 15 teams train west of Interstate 17.

Seattle Mariner’s Ariel Miranda (#37) throws a pitch in the first inning against the San Diego Padres Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria. (Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia)

For example, Glendale’s Camelback Ranch is not close to the city’s downtown and a bit of a hike from the stadium district and Westgate. However, Glendale businesses in and around Arrowhead Towne Center, including a couple hotels, benefit from the nearby Peoria Sports Complex and the city enjoys some of the sales tax revenue.

“Visitors are shopping, dining, getting gas, and much more in our city and the surrounding West Valley cities. Destinations like Arrowhead Towne Center, Downtown Glendale, Tanger and Westgate are hot spots during the spring training season, and regardless of where they are located, visitors will go where the attractions are.

The West Valley is unique in that five of the Cactus League ballparks – and nine of the teams – in very close proximity to one another, creating an inviting fan experience,” said Kimberly Larson, marketing and communications manager for Glendale’s public facilities, recreation and special events.

Of course, Peoria also enjoys the spoils of its own party. The first spring training complex in the West Valley is surrounded by restaurants, hotels, retail stores and a multiplex on the south side of Bell Road. In 2014 the city designated 83rd Avenue and the surrounding area as its P83 entertainment district.
Peoria Communications and Marketing administrator Jennifer Stein said five restaurants have opened within walking distance of the stadium since last spring.

They are: Giordano’s, Headquarters AZ, Modern Round, Revlou Modern Taqueria and Bar and Slick’s Garage.

“There is significant impact during spring training as the surrounding businesses see an increase in revenue and foot traffic,” Ms. Stein said.

Hotels also benefit from hometown fans, many of whom plan their vacations around the Cactus League. Glendale and Peoria are largely intertwined and data from the Glendale Convention and Visitors Bureau paints a good picture for both.

Not all of the hotel boost can be attributed to spring training, Ms. Larson said.

“March is our busiest time for hotels with an average 95 percent occupancy for the month. It is also the busiest month at the Glendale Visitor Center, due to the combination of ideal weather and spring training. The majority of the visitors come from the Midwest,” she said.

Surprise extends the visiting peak by hosting two college baseball tournaments before spring training begins. The city is doing so right now.

In 2016, these tournaments produced more than 1,200 additional room nights for hotels in the city, between the teams and out of town guests.

“The baseball college classic really fills a void with what we do in the middle of February. It brings in significant room nights and significant retail sales opportunities for our restaurants,” said Mark Coronado, Surprise director of community and recreation services, during an August City Council work session.

Buoyed by the Kanas City Royals’ 2015 World Series crown and a division title from the Texas Rangers, Surprise received gains in revenue from all six of its primary spring training sources.

Gross spring training revenue in Surprise grew to $7.9 million in 2016, a 25 percent increase. That number is more than $2 million above revenue from 2014 with only one more game.

Ticket revenue jumped 25 percent to $3.9 million,, concessions were up 23 percent and merchandise passed the million-dollar threshold at $1,246,726, a 37 percent boost from 2015.

“When merchandise takes a big jump like that, it’s not normally our residents. That’s usually someone visiting that wants to go home with something,” Mr. Coronado said during that presentation.

Attendance was up three percent to 206,817 in 2016. From this, Surprise received a payout of $2.44 million.
Glendale and Peoria set attendance marks in 2016. Camelback Ranch saw a total attendance of 245,760, compared to 234,517 in 2015.

Peoria Stadium enjoyed its second straight record breaker, with 240,111 fans after 238,847 in 2015.
And the baseball organizations who call Glendale, Peoria and Surprise home in March make the complexes a home away from home for most of the other 11 months. The Arizona Rookie League, Instructional League, Arizona Fall League, extended spring training rehab assignments and player development programs take up large chunks of the year.

On more empty weekends, complexes in Glendale, Peoria and Surprise turn into nerve centers for youth baseball and/or public events.

“Youth baseball tournaments take place on nine weekends outside of spring training, keeping the facility busy in the summer, fall, and early winter. Camelback Ranch also hosts several races and fun runs, expos, company meetings, commercial shoots, and high profile regional events like the Great Arizona Dog Show,” Ms. Larson said.

As of the first week of February, signs are even more promising for 2017 in Glendale and Peoria.
“Ticket sales for 2017 spring training are currently outpacing 2016 numbers, with several games already sold out before camp even opens,” said Scott Carter, director of marketing at Camelback Ranch.

Peoria is ready to open the Peoria Cove, a coastal-themed playground for children.
Within Peoria Cove is The Ballyard, a miniature baseball diamond, and The Shipyard, a playground to inspire the imagination of young sailors.

A small splash pad and play structure are set in and around the frame of a seafaring ship. Peoria Cove also features a café with concession offerings for kids and adults.

“Ticket sales are on a similar pace for this season, which isn’t surprising given the new amenities, promotions and the quality of opponents, including the Cubs which now gives the Cactus League four of the last five World Series winners,” Ms. Stein said.

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