Crowds at spring training baseball games in Arizona were smaller in 2003 — and much sought-after out-of-town fans made up a smaller share of those crowds.
Out-of-town fans brought in about $88.3 million in direct spending to Maricopa County, a study done for the Cactus League Association shows.
About 56 percent of those who attended games at the six stadiums in the Valley were from out of state or from elsewhere in Arizona, compared with 61 percent in 1998. Attendees from outside an area provide the main economic benefit from any event because they bring new dollars to the local economy.
Direct spending increased 8 percent in the Valley from 1998, the last time a study was conducted. That increase lags slightly behind inflation. In the Tucson area, visiting fans' spending decreased 46 percent from 1998. For the state as a whole, spending from spring training visiting fans was up 1.5 percent from five years earlier, reaching $110 million, the study showed. "There's nothing in the study that makes me cringe or think this part of a terrible trend," said Robert Brinton, of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Average attendance in 2003 was 6,123 per game, down 14.5 percent from the season before and the lowest average since 1996. But 2002 was a record year for total and average attendance for the Cactus League, as the spring training circuit in the state is called. Much of the surge that season was attributed to the Arizona Diamondbacks' 2001 World Series victory.
The two top Cactus League draws in 2003 call the East Valley home each spring. The San Francisco Giants averaged 9,518 fans per game at Scottsdale Stadium. The Chicago Cubs averaged 8,882 at Mesa's Hohokam Park. The World Series champion Anaheim Angels increased their average attendance at Tempe Diablo Stadium to 6,002, up almost 1,000 per game.
Jerry Geiger, president of the Cactus League Association, said the league's numbers hold up well considering the general tourism downturn the past few years.
"What is evident in the advent of 9/11 and the softening of the economy is it's somewhat scary how important tourism is to a vibrant state economy,'' he said.
Of the out-of-area fans surveyed, 76 percent said spring training was a major reason why they came to Arizona. "People are making major tourism decisions based on spring training," he said.
Spring training remains a huge event for East Valley tourism, Brinton said.
"It's like a Super Bowl every year," he said. "The Fiesta Bowl may bring in a little more money every fifth year when they have the national championship. This is every year."
Spring training's impact goes beyond benefits for tourism, he said. Brinton said he's talked to people at spring training who say they moved here because of exposure to the area from spring training.
"We've had people tell us, 'You're not asking the right question. I own a home here now because of spring training,' " Brinton said.
The study was conducted by FMR Associates of Tucson, using the same methodology as studies done in 1993 and 1998. The study was paid for by the state offices of tourism and commerce and cost more than $20,000, Cactus League officials said.