Major League Baseball’s spring training begins on Friday, and for the first time since 2019, fans will be in the stands for a full roster of games. The pent-up demand fueled by pandemic-era restrictions and last season’s lockout has left Arizona and Florida anticipating a billion-dollar economic recovery as fans return to stadiums in warm-weather states.
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Every year before the start of the regular season, MLB teams from across the country travel to Arizona and Florida for over a month to prepare for the upcoming season, and there are 15 MLB teams in each state. Teams that spend preseason in Arizona play each other in the Cactus League, while Florida teams compete in the Grapefruit League.
Fans from across the country travel to these states to watch their favorite teams in a more intimate setting than the regular season usually offers, and spring training is generating bi-state economic activity valued at about $1.3 billion in 2018.
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The circumstances of the past three seasons have prevented fans from fully participating in spring training, which in turn has hurt the economy of the spring training communities.
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In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of spring training after about three weeks. As the pandemic dragged on into 2021, MLB teams in both states have limited spectator numbers and put in place social distancing restrictions. Last year, spring training was postponed and then shortened, disrupting fans’ travel schedules amid a labor dispute between MLB owners and the MLB Players Association over their contract.
After the pandemic restrictions are lifted and labor disputes are resolved, MLB fans will be able to enjoy a full spring training. And communities in Arizona and Florida are hoping to reap the economic benefits of a return to normalcy.
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“In 2023, we look forward to a ‘normal’ season, the first in four years,” Cactus League chief executive Bridget Binsbacher told FOX Business. “Wherever I go, I feel excitement among the people of the valley about the upcoming season. Add to that an uptick in tourism and I’m optimistic we’ll see higher attendance.”
Big Phoenix Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Sanders echoed the sentiment, telling FOX Business that after the Super Bowl and the WM Phoenix Open, he believes it will be a “strong year” for spring training attendance, which could top 1.7 million attendees. the area takes in typical years.
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The most recent study of the economic impact of a full spring training season was in 2018, with leagues in Arizona and Florida generating a combined economic impact of $1.3 billion.
A 2018 study by the Florida Sports Foundation found that grapefruit league generated $687 million in economic impact and created or supported 7,152 jobs in spring training camp communities. Fans attended an average of 2.9 games, and just over half of the fans who attended the games were from out of state.
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A study from Arizona State University showed that in 2018 cactus league the season generated a total economic impact of $644 million and created or supported 6,439 jobs per year. The study found that six out of 10 fans traveled to Arizona from out of state, the average fan attendance was three games, and that fans stayed in Arizona for four nights and spent about $405 a day.