Spend all you want, Wisconsin snowbirds--Arizona still loses money on the Cactus League
We come, pasty and white, to the Valley of the Sun each March.
We tan. We burn. We eat. We drink. We cheer for Brewers players we've never heard of, wearing uniform numbers usually associated with our grandparent's ages upon death.
Many of us make a Cactus League pilgrimage--more, now so than 30 years ago or so when I first made such a trip--but no matter how much cash we snowbirds drop in Arizona, it's still a losing proposition for the host cities.
The Arizona Republic says eight of nine cities hosting spring training clubs have combined annual deficits of ten million dollars even though games generate tens of millions of dollars. The teams, says the Republic, get the lion's share of that.
What then of the crowds you see in Scottsdale bars and bistros each March night? The place we hit last Saturday evening was packed to the rafters with an hour wait for table and a better than decent throng still waiting to dine when we left about ten-ish. Traffic was thick--presumably rental cars packed with visitors. That's an economy separate from what happens at the stadiums, and the paper says that's still not enough to put the host towns in the black.
How's that, you ask? A sports economist tells The Republic that Arizona would get all of those sun-deprived denizens whether or not there was a Cactus League because, well, it's not the Great White North. We'd crave the Valley of the Sun each March, baseball or not he says, and his numbers to back it up: Florida towns hosting Grapefruit League teams noticed little if any dip in 1990 when a work stoppage dramatically curtailed the spring training slate. Folks came anyway and the coffers didn't suffer much, if at all.
Despite the loses, new stadiums get built and renovations continue. The Republic says Phoenix will spend $1.5 million to improve the Brewers home at Maryvale even though the city lost an average of $1.8 million there over the past five years. The team agreed to stay there through 2022 but has an option to bolt anytime it wants after 2014. Some thought the stadium would bring badly needed redevelopment to the Maryvale community, but if it's happened, I failed to see it last weekend. It's still a home for more pawn shops than sports bars, more tire stores than hotels, more accident attorneys than business development.
Newer, more versatile stadiums are the rage, and look for more of them to ape the Talking Stick template--the relatively new ballpark near Scottsdale hosts both the Rockies and Diamondbacks while sporting year-round banquet facilities and other attributes that make it more than a baseball destination. Look for more and more Cactus League clubs to be rivals on the spring training field but roommates when it comes time to find a place to play. The White Sox and Dodgers are already bunkies in suburban Glendale.
What does all of this mean to you, the vitamin D seeking Brewers nut who can't wait until Opening Day to see the Crew? Not a whole lot. But don't go there the way I did, thinking that all of those people buying all of those tickets, eating all of those brats and quaffing all that beer are doing the Phoenix environs any huge favors. We can spend til it hurts, but the region's ultimate scoreboard shows the Cactus League game isn't covering the area's spring training tab.