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Spring Training Is Open Season For Big Business

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Many people mark the New Year in January, but for a few people spring training designates the beginning of a new calendar. Winter is about over and the snow will soon melt. The crocuses, daffodils, and tulips will begin to bloom. Our team takes the field with new players and maybe new coaches. We dream that this may be the year we win the pennant, and if the baseball gods favor us, maybe even the World Series.

Baseball fans flock to Florida in March to watch their teams prepare. The smaller ballparks of spring training give fans the opportunity to get closer to the game. They hope for an autograph from their favorite player, maybe Derek Jeter. A chance to watch a couple of games, sit in the sun, have a hot dog, and maybe a beer. They want to forget about shoveling snow, and work.

Fifteen teams compete in Florida during spring training. In a week, a person could see almost half of the major league teams play ball with only a few hours driving. Within an hour of Tampa, the Rays, Yankees, Tigers, Phillies, Orioles, Blue Jays, Pirates, Astros, and Braves play on a daily basis. Drive another hour, and you can see the Red Sox, Twins, and Nationals.

When "Center Field" by John Fogerty was released the tickets were less expensive, the stadiums smaller, and the players friendlier. For a smile and a handshake in the parking lot of Joker Marchant Stadium, winter home of the Detroit Tigers, you could get a seat in the second row behind the first base dugout. Today those tickets cost over $20. Players interacted with the fans more openly. They signed autographs and chatted with the fans. The whole spring training experience was more relaxed.

Somewhere around 1988 things began to change. Players became even more of a commodity. Their autographs and baseball cards gained value. 8-year-olds gave way to entrepreneurs, scamming autographs to sell instead of seeking autographs for personal keepsakes. More people were coming to the games, tickets were more difficult to obtain, and bigger stadiums were needed.

In 1989, Sarasota built Ed Smith Stadium to house the Chicago White Sox for spring training. In 1998, the White Sox moved their spring operation to Arizona to join the Cactus League. Then Sarasota wooed the Cincinnati Reds from Plant City. And this past year, the Reds decided to move to the Cactus League as well.

Once again Sarasota went shopping for a baseball team. They lured the Baltimore Orioles from Fort Lauderdale, FL with a promise of $30 million in renovations to Ed Smith Stadium. But hold everything! The Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine challenged the agreement in court between Sarasota County and the Orioles. Until the challenge is settled, the bond sale can't go through which means no renovations, and no guarantee the Orioles will be staying in Sarasota past 2011.

While the spring training game play on the field may not be indicative of the outcome of the World Series, the game play off the field remains serious business for the cities that host the Major League teams. Spring training lasts for about two months. The tourists, players, coaches, and administrators need housing, food, and entertainment for the duration. Putting on the games requires a small army of ticket booth attendants, vendors, grounds crew, and parking attendants. In a 2009 study, the Bonn Marketing and Research Group found that spring training teams in Florida had an economic impact of $752.3 million with direct spending of about $442 million.

Not only do cities within Florida compete for the spring training dollars, but  Arizona has begun a big push to entice teams to leave Florida. The Rangers, Dodgers, Reds, and White Sox have left Florida. Now, tourists can go to the Phoenix area and watch 15 major league teams play and need only 40 minutes to drive between venues.

However for this year, the spring training shuffle has stopped, and play has begun. Fans fill the stands cheering on their teams, and munching on hot dogs and cracker jacks. More than a few fans dream this year their team will win it all. Hopefully there are a still a few children of all ages awed by their heroes, and wanting an autograph for themselves, not to sell.

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About Bruce G. Smith

I'm a part time writer with a few articles published here and there. In addition to writing, I'm into nature and architectural photography.