Out-of-state baseball fans spent a whopping $311 million in March to see their favorite teams step up to the plate in preparation for the new season.
That’s 54 percent more than visiting baseball lovers spent in Arizona four years earlier, according to a Cactus League spring training study released Monday.
And the boost to local businesses is even bigger than that.
Those numbers don’t include the estimated $24 million spent by Major League Baseball to house and feed the major and minor league players, officials and staff, said Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau.
And unlike most economic impact studies of Valley events, Cactus League only counts what the tourists — not local — fans spend, Brinton said.
“The increase in spending is huge, and the importance of it is amazing,” he said.
Nearly six out of 10 fans who went to spring training games this year came from somewhere else.
In fact, the percentage of out-of-towners filling the boxes and bleachers at the Cactus League stadiums was way up — 57 percent, compared with 48 percent in 2003, the last year studied.
The fans came from near and far. Spring training visitors surveyed hailed from 44 states and the District of Columbia, as well as from Canada, Germany and Mexico.
They filled up local hotels and restaurants, took side trips to the Grand Canyon or Sedona, pampered themselves at Scottsdale’s world-class spas, teed up at East Valley golf courses.
And they shopped.
Three out of 10 visitors said they went shopping while in town — the most popular side activity for the visiting baseball fans.
But the tourists made it clear they came for the games.
More than 68 percent of out-of-state visitors said that spring training was their “primary” reason for visiting Arizona.
Another 16 percent said it was a “major” reason for choosing to take a trip to Arizona in March.
These are the tourists who would likely go elsewhere for their spring vacation if their favorite team did.
And that’s all good news for the Cactus League, which is getting ready to welcome two new teams — the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians — in 2009, said J.P. de la Montaigne, Cactus League president.
Cactus League organizers were excited about the results.
“It’s very impressive,” de la Montaigne said. “We knew the numbers would be high, but these are a lot higher than we expected. We’re very pleased.”
Hoteliers were, too.
At the Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale, “it was the same as last March, which was just great — the best March we ever had,” said Tom Silverman, general manager.
At The Buttes, A Marriott Resort in Tempe, general manager Steve Eberhart described his baseball business as “excellent,” and said he noticed two emerging trends — more families versus empty nesters and more fans coming from further away, especially from colder climates.
Since the Buttes overlooks Tempe Diablo Stadium, where the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play spring ball, it’s clear the team is attracting visitors from outside its home base, Eberhart said.
And sometimes, the further the fans travel, the longer they stay in the Valley, he said.
The average length of stay for all Cactus League visitors slipped slightly — 4.7 nights compared with 4.9 in 2003 — according to the study.
But since the average amount of money spent per day soared upwards, nobody was shedding tears about that, Brinton said.
Seven out of 10 March game-goers stayed in hotels this March, compared with 59 percent of the 2003 visitors. And this season’s fans spent an average $316 a day compared with $210 for those who came for games in 2003.
Maybe that’s because this year’s Cactus League fans were older — by about four years — and richer — by about $17,000 in annual household income.
How visitors spend
Other activities Cactus League visitors do during their stay in Arizona:
• Shopping: 29%
• Sightseeing/touring; 26%
• Fine dining: 25%
• Play golf: 21%
• Visit family/friends: 21%
• Night life; 18%
• Casinos/gambling: 8%
• Museums/art galleries: 8%
• Go to movies: 85%
• Visit national/state parks: 7%
• Hiking/biking: 6%
• Sporting, non-baseball events: 6%
• Visit historic sites: 5%