By Mark Carlisle
The games might not count, but the money spent on them does.
Spring training provides an enormous boost to Arizona’s economy, and its impact is growing.
A study by Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business’ Seidman Research Institute found the total economic impact of the 2018 Cactus League is conservatively estimated at $373 million on the state’s gross domestic product. The Cactus League also generates 6,439 annual jobs paying $224.6 million.
The $373 million contribution to the state’s GDP accounts for more than 1 percent of Arizona’s total GDP, which was $326.4 billion in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“Spring training in general is a big economic engine here,” said Glendale’s budget and finance director, Vicki Rios. “It is a big thing for Glendale, and it’s certainly something that we derive a benefit from.”
The Cactus League’s economic impact has grown substantially in recent years. FMR Associates measured $644.2 million in total output, a measure of overall economic activity, during 2018 spring training in Arizona, an 11 percent increase over 2015 numbers.
Spring training’s impact has had more dramatic growth over the past few decades. According to ASU’s study, out-of-state visitors spent $315.7 million while in town for spring training in 2018. That’s only a 1.84 percent increase from the last time ASU studied spring training in 2015, but it more than doubles the amount out-of-state visitors spent in 2003.
ASU has said it wants to start doing its Cactus League every two years instead of every three years.
ASU estimates visiting out-of-state fans, the MLB teams and ballpark operational expenditures associated with the 2018 Cactus League directly generate about $24.2 million in state government tax revenues, and $7.7 million in local government tax revenues.
Spring training’s impact goes far beyond the money generated within the turnstiles.
Four-fifths of the sales tax revenue generated by Camelback Ranch, which Glendale owns but is located in Phoenix, goes to Glendale while Phoenix receives the other 20 percent. In spring 2018, Glendale gleaned about $90,000 from such taxes, according to Ms. Rios. That’s not much in the big picture — only about a tenth of a percent of Glendale’s overall sales tax revenue.
Ms. Rios noted that the spring training facility spurs other sales tax revenue, including at Westgate Entertainment District, one of the city’s main economic drivers.
“The revenue generated at the stadium itself, is not a huge dollar amount… but it’s still driving activity at Westgate and activity at the restaurants in the whole entertainment district,” she said. “And so, it would be nearly impossible to say how much revenue is being generated outside the stadium that is actually attributable to those visitors.”
Jeff Teetsel, development manager for Westgate Entertainment District, a few miles north of Camelback Ranch, said March is the busiest month for many of Westgate’s businesses. While they don’t keep track of traffic numbers for the center as a whole, Mr. Teetsel said March is “at or near the peak month of the year.”
The same traffic bump is true for Arrowhead Towne Center, across the street from Peoria Sports Complex.
“We see quite the influx,” said MaryLou Ruiz, senior marketing manager for the mall.
She said March trails only the holiday shopping months, November and December, for the most traffic at the mall.
Businesses at both centers try to entice fans to stop by before or after the game by providing discounts or specials to fans who show a same-day spring training ticket.
While the arrow is pointing up for most metrics of spring training, ASU’s study showed a downward trend in daily spending in three areas for out-of-area visitors: entertainment and daily transportation, which saw their median spending cut in half from 2015 to 2018, and retail, where median spending dropped by a quarter, according to estimates by survey respondents.
The daily transportation number, which is linked to car rentals, is easy enough to explain with the rise of ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft.
Retail and entertainment are not as easily explained, though $59.5 million and $22.4 million, respectively, were still spent in each category due to the Cactus League last year. Entertainment showed one positive sign, in that the amount of travel parties spending $300 or more a day on entertainment on their trip doubled from 6 to 12 percent.
Daily spending on lodging rose by 19 percent to $200 and daily spending on food and drink rose 14 percent to $150.
Mr. Teetsel and Ms. Ruiz indicated no slowing of either category at their shopping centers. Ms. Ruiz noted that many fans will stop by Dick’s Sporting Goods or Just Sports for merchandise before or after games. Westgate also has an ad on the outfield wall at Camelback Ranch informing out-of-towners that it’s just a few miles away.
Mr. Teetsel said Westgate, which has sports and entertainment events year-round, said spring training provides a constant boost to traffic but doesn’t match the nightly crowds of big events at Gila River Arena and State Farm Stadium.
“Spring training is beneficial because it’s consistent increased traffic over about a 30-day period, but the individual peaks from say a Cardinals game or a big concert are more significant than any individual spring training day,” Mr. Teetsel said.