Arizona's economy likely to take a hit with fewer crowds coming for spring training

Posted at 7:56 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 21:56:50-05

PHOENIX — Last year, the spring training season in Arizona was cut short as the first reported cases of the coronavirus started in our state.

KGUN9's sister station ABC15 Arizona, also first reported on Tuesday that there was a letter from the Cactus League Association, along with some city and town leaders, that was sent to Major League Baseball and the Player's Association.

In it, they asked if there was an option to delay the start of the season because of the number of COVID cases in Arizona.

"Public health and safety is our top concern," said Arizona Cactus League Association Executive Director Bridget Binsbacher.

While MLB said in a statement, they share the concern of safety and they are going to instruct teams to be prepared for an on-time start on February 27.

As for how many people will be allowed and what safety precautions will be in place, Binsbacher said, the final plans are still being worked out.

"Things can be so drastically different a week from now, let alone three weeks from now, or six weeks from now," Binsbacher explained. "So, we're just... it's a moving target we're watching all the time."

But spring training is more than just a game. The big picture of the impact it all has on Arizona's economy stretches far beyond the ballpark.

Every couple of years, Arizona State University conducts an economic impact study related to spring training.

In 2018, the Arizona Cactus League Association reported total attendance was about 1.7 million people.

The ASU survey indicates that the season brought in more than $644 million to the state with booked hotels and packed restaurants.

"We were in the midst of our economic impact study in 2020 when the season came to such an abrupt halt," Binsbacher said.

Last year, spring training brought in more than $360 million.

"It touches so many different areas... tourism, you know - the local restaurants and establishments that really rely on that influx of travel and activity during spring training," Binsbacher explained.

Mike Haley owns Belle's Nashville Kitchen in the Valley. He said a delayed season or not will still have an impact.

"It's going to be tough," Haley said. "...You're just not going to have the foot traffic. You're not going to have people coming to town... staying at hotels, spending money at the bars and restaurants, spending money at the shops."

Haley had wanted to open a restaurant for years and loved the vibe of Music City. He thought a Nashville-themed honky-tonk restaurant would fit nicely among the locals and tourists.

"It goes with the theme of Old Town Scottsdale," Haley said. "...The cowboys and all the good stuff that goes with Old Town Scottsdale."

The location is usually full of foot traffic, near spring training, and in a spot people coming from out of state usually want to visit.

"Obviously, we want people to go to the games, so afterwards they come in and have a hot chicken sandwich and they have some cocktails," Haley said. "...And those people not there is going to be tough."

Just how much of a hit the economy will take this year is still up in the air and the Cactus League Association said they will be ready to start safely on February 27, no matter how different things may look.

"We're watching it very closely," Binsbacher said. "We're working cooperatively within the Cactus League, with MLB, with other stakeholders to make sure that we are making the best possible decisions to prepare for Spring Training 2021."

Binsbacher does suggest keeping an eye on the Cactus League's website or the team's website to keep up to date on any and all changes to the schedule that come about.

You can do so by clicking here.