Play Ball


Ed Smith Stadium

As they write the newest chapter in Sarasota’s 85-year history of hosting major league baseball’s annual rite of spring, the Baltimore Orioles carry on a tradition started long ago when the New York Giants—recruited with the help of John Ringling—first came to Sarasota in 1924, having just won back-to-back World Series in 1921 and 1922 and the National League pennant in 1923.  Other teams that have called Sarasota home throughout the intervening years include the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.

Although the official start of Spring Training is still more than three months away, the Baltimore Orioles fly into town on Saturday to participate in Family FanFest, at Ed Smith Stadium.  The event—hosted in conjunction with The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau—marked the first official Sarasota welcome for the Orioles since July’s announcement that the team would move its spring training operations here.

“The Orioles are extremely excited to be a part of the Sarasota community, and this event is our first opportunity to meet many of our new neighbors,” said Greg Bader, the Orioles’ Director of Communications.  “Our year-round partnership extends well beyond the traditional spring training season, as we look forward to demonstrating our commitment to the community in the weeks, months and years to come.”

While the Baltimore Orioles have a long and distinguished tradition of being deeply involved in the philanthropic lives of the communities they call home, Sarasota is already assured of a grand slam when the team takes the field at Ed Smith Stadium.  Baseball is big business in Florida, and this year’s Grapefruit League play comes at a time when our local economy has rarely needed a bases-loaded home run more.

A study released last summer by the Bonn Marketing Research—for the Florida Sports Foundation—estimates that the total economic impact of the 39 days of statewide spring training in 2009 was $752.3 million. With 16 teams playing in the Grapefruit League in 2009, that’s an average of $47 million per team; a two-thirds increase in revenue since the last time Florida paused to examine the economic impact of spring training in 2000.  Back then there were actually more teams training in Florida—20 in all—with the economic impact estimated at $450 million, or $22.5 million per team.   Each team now earns over twice what it did ten years ago; and spring training in Florida has supported or created 9,205 jobs.

“Major League Baseball has a following that transcends economic downturns,” said Mark Bonn, the research firm’s president, in explaining baseball’s apparent immunity to even the deepest recession.

Bonn’s study confirms that there were 259 Grapefruit League games played at 15 different municipal locations throughout Florida in 2009. A total of 1,561,873 fans attended these games, with more than half being non-Florida residents who accounted for $571 million in direct economic stimulus to the state.  The average fan, it was noted, travels in groups of three with each group spending an average of $313.65 each day they’re here.

In addition to the economic bonanza that will accrue to our community during the compressed season of Spring Training baseball, the Orioles will be a major year-round economic presence as well.  In fact, they already are.

For the past 15 years the team has divided its time between Sarasota and Broward Counties; with its seven rookie league teams living in Sarasota and training at Twin Lakes Park; while its major league team played spring baseball in Ft. Lauderdale.  Going forward, all eight Oriole teams will train in Sarasota; then when the major league division breaks camp and moves to Baltimore for regular season play, it will continue to send its players back to Sarasota—as needed—for physical rehab and/or additional training.

Within the next couple of years a branch of the Cal Ripkin Youth Academy will likewise take up residence in Sarasota’s Twin Lakes Park, training underprivileged and for-pay kids while hosting youth baseball tournaments all year long.  Headquartered in Aberdeen, MD, the academy is restricted to seasonal play during warm weather months only.  Weather won’t be an issue for the Sarasota academy, enabling more productive year-round operations.

Of course, none of this powerful evidence of baseball’s direct impact on our local economy factors-in the number of team members, coaches, trainers, front-office administration and other members of the Orioles Organization—not to mention their families and legions of loyal fans—who, by virtue of their devotion to the team, are about to discover the myriad pleasures of living in Sarasota.  Indeed, we are already welcoming many of them to town as they scour for the incredible housing opportunities they’ve been hearing about in the national and local news.

To this warmest of official welcomes and best wishes for a championship season, we at Michael Saunders & Company can only add:  Play ball!

Editor’s note:  Many thanks to Virginia Haley, President of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau and to Robert Messick Esq., Chairman of the Board of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce for their contributions regarding the local economic impact of major league baseball.  Thanks as well to Jeff LaHurd, whose book Spring Training in Sarasota (2006: The History Press) provided an invaluable reference for this piece.

Written by Tom Heatherman – Michael Saunders & Company

* Follow Tom on Twitter: twitter.com/SarasotaRE

photo courtesy of www.escape-to-sarasota.com

  • User Gravatar Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government
    November 16th, 2009

    The Bonn Research is an invalid economic analysis. It would be like your company counting gross sales without counting overhead. An analysis of taxable sales in Sarasota since 1980 documents no economic benefit to hosting spring training. See below for a discussion of the Bonn reports flaws.

    [Editor’s Note: Names removed to protect privacy]

    Subject: Study Shows Strong Positive Economic Impact of Spring Training for Florida

    Dear Mr. Holder.

    My name is Philip Porter. I hold a Ph.D. in Economics and have studied sports economics extensively over the past 25 years. You should be aware of a few things that are crucial to interpreting the Bonn Group analysis. I list them as bullet points below.

    1. The Bonn Group did not measure the impact of spring training – they estimated one part of it (visitors) and projected the rest based on a model of the economy.

    2. Without exception the academic economists that have studied sports conclude that the methodology used by the Bonn Group is inappropriate. In more than 50 studies the results cannot be verified by retrospective analysis. That is, the imprint of spring training that should be evident when a team moves in or out of a county or when spring training is cancelled due to strike or lockout cannot be found. I have attached a list of articles I am familiar with. Not all of these are about spring training but they all deal with sports activities that are touted as generating large economic impact. If the Bonn Group report did not cite this literature, it has not done a thorough job and does not provide you with complete information.

    3. The Florida Sports Foundation and the Office of Tourism are not impartial and their output is not vetted. Academic economists have no horse in the race; most that study sports are avid fans who, if they are biased, are in favor of sports. We publish our results together with our data. The papers are blind reviewed by at least two editors and two or three reviewers and, once published, subjected to the scrutiny of the profession. When 50 academic economists reach the same conclusion, it is hard to ignore.

    4. Economic impact is probably not what you think it is. Economic impact as used in these studies is not income. It is not the value of goods and services. It is instead gross sales. A simple example helps to understand what this is. If a farmer sells $.20 worth of wheat to a miller who grinds it into flour which sells for $.40 to a baker who bakes bread which sells for $1.00 to Publix who in turn sells it to you for $1.50, there is $3.10 in gross sales but only $1.50 worth of bread created.

    5. Subsidies come from tax revenue and therefore should be compared to taxes generated to make a meaningful comparison. A $47m impact on a community generates about $20m in taxable sales (see point 3) and, at 7%, $1.4m in tax revenue. An annual subsidy of $2m implies that the host community and the state must reduce other services to host spring training. Even if the projections of the Bonn Group were true, the subsidy creates sacrifice for Florida residents.

    6. Economic impact as measured by the Bonn Group capture only the good cash flows – money into the economy from tourists – and ignores all the bad cash flows – money out of the economy from taxes and from local residents who spend money on the team. The Bonn model counts $1 of tourist spending as an infusion into the local economy and multiplies it (by, perhaps, 2) to account for the subsequent rounds of spending as the $1 circulates in the economy. However, since the team typically keeps all gate receipts, signage, naming rights, and other revenues generated at the stadium, spending by local businesses that advertize at the stadium and by local residents who attend the games leaks out of the economy and leakage is subject to the same multiplier. Every local dollar given to the team should be multiplied (by 2) and subtracted before any measure of “impact” is made. Ignoring negative cash flows makes the analysis meaningless. You are given their estimate of the positive benefits but you do not know the costs.

    7. Dr. Bonn is not an economist. His analysis comes directly from a REMI or IMPLAN model that he purchased. He puts some data into the computer model and out comes results that he reports. I feel certain he knows nothing about the internal process that generates his report. I’ve built such models and teach the basic mathematics of the model. It is appropriate to use this model when there is new spending that is steady and recurring. It is not appropriate for events that span only five or six weeks each year.

    While it is clear from past analyses that good education, public safety, good transportation systems, and low taxes stimulate economic growth, sports do not rest on such a firm foundation. Since sports subsidies necessarily reduce other government spending or necessitate higher taxes, doubt about the impact of sports makes its subsidy a very questionable government function.

    If you are open minded about spring training, I would gladly answer any question you have. If Dr. Bonn would like, I’d gladly meet with you and him to discuss his finding.

    Philip Porter
    Professor of Economics
    University of South Florida
    Dear Constituents of District 70:

    I would like to share this information with you about the impact of Spring Training on our state. I would like to hear your thoughts about this report.

    Best Regards,
    Doug Holder
    State Representative, District 70
    8486 S. Tamiami Trail
    Sarasota, FL 34238
    941-918-4028 office
    941-918-4030 fax

    Florida Spring Baseball is Big Business for Florida

    ~ Annually Brings more than $750 Million to the Sunshine State ~

    TALLAHASSEE – The 2009 Florida Grapefruit League season may have lasted only 39 days, but the total economic value (impact) of the Major League Baseball Spring Training to the Florida economy was estimated to be $752.3 million, according to a new study conducted by Bonn Marketing Research Group, and commissioned by the Florida Sports Foundation in conjunction with the Office of the Governor and Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.

    The 2009 study found that the 2009 Major League Baseball (MLB) Spring Training season generated $284.2 million in total labor income and supported or created 9,205 part-time and full-time jobs. The study showed an increase of $299 million from a study completed during the 2000 Florida Spring Training season that showed a $453 million economic impact. When broken down on a per team basis, the 2009 study shows a $47 million economic impact per team to the community that hosts a Major League team for Spring Training.

    Included in the economic impact analysis are the 16 MLB teams spring training operating expenditures in the State of Florida, the operating expenditures of the 15 stadiums that house MLB spring training operations, the concessionaire spring training operating expenditures at the 15 stadiums, and spring training game attendee expenditures.

    Spring training game attendee expenditures were calculated from data collected through 1,600 personal interviews at all of the 15 spring training stadiums inFlorida. Attendees were surveyed during four randomly selected home games for each of the 16 MLB teams.

    The largest source of direct expenditures from Spring Training baseball operations is fan spending, accounting for 91 percent of the total expenditures generated by 2009 MLB Florida spring training.

    “Major League Baseball has a following that transcends economic downturns,” Dr. Mark Bonn, President of the Bonn Marketing Research Group, the firm that conducted the study. “People make their decisions to travel almost a year out and many of the respondents were repeat attendees at Spring Training Games. Economic conditions have little effect upon their decision to come to Florida for spring training. It’s more about loyalty than economics.”

    The 2009 Florida Spring Training Baseball season, which lasted from February 25 and April 4, drew a total of 1,561,873 fans to 259 games at 15 locations around the State of Florida for an average of more than 6,000 fans per game.

    In an effort to determine the number of out-of-state attendees, professionally-trained surveyors for the Tallahassee-based Bonn Marketing Research Group, determined the origin of each attendee before the personal interview began. With that information, the survey estimated out-of-state spring training attendees stating “attending spring training” as their primary trip purpose, contributed $571.7 million in total spending output.

    During the 2009 MLB Florida spring training season, 48 percent of attendees were from out of state, 28 percent of attendees were Florida, non-county attendees traveling to another county to see a Grapefruit League game and 24 percent of attendees were Florida, in-county attendees.

    2009 MLB Florida spring training attendees spent an average of $313.65 per party per day, spent 5.82 nights and traveled with an average party size of 2.95 persons.

    Other survey results determined a high level of satisfaction through 1,600 personal interviews conducted at spring training sites. More than 60 percent of the fans surveyed had previously attended a Florida Spring Training game and 91.9 percent indicated that they would attend another game.

    The Florida Sports Foundation offers an annual, complementary guide to all MLB teams in Florida’s Grapefruit League including stadium locations, ticket prices, telephone numbers, team schedules and more. For a listing of Florida Grapefruit League teams holding their annual spring training in the SunshineState and their locations around the state, please visit http://www.floridagrapefruitleague.com. To obtain a complete copy of the survey, visit http://www.flasports.com or call (850) 488-1422.

  • User Gravatar jim lampl
    November 16th, 2009

    When did you say Cal Ripkin committed to coming here?

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