Cactus League play in 2018 was a boon for Scottsdale’s coffers as the city generated over $21 million in sales tax revenue in March last year alone – more than any other spring training city in the East Valley.
The city is home to one Cactus League team, the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, and two others, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, play nearby at Salt River Fields in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
With games scheduled to begin at the end of the week, money from fan spending will again start pouring into Scottsdale’s coffers.
Scottsdale’s sales tax revenue of $21,613,590 in March 2018 was its highest monthly total in fiscal year 2017-18, accounting for just under 12 percent of citywide sales tax revenues that fiscal year.
Fiscal year 2017-18 ran from July 2017 through June 2018.
Despite its lasting popularity, the Cactus League is not always the top sales tax draw for Scottsdale, a city that hosts a number of high-profile events at the beginning of every year, including the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction and Waste Management Phoenix Open.
In March 2017, the city brought in $14,879,276 in sales tax revenue, the fourth-highest total that fiscal year.
In March 2018, Scottsdale’s sales tax revenue was even more than Mesa, a city that is nearly twice the size of Scottsdale based on population and is home to the Chicago Cubs, the Cactus League’s biggest draw.
The Cubs led the Cactus league in attendance in 2018, drawing 222,023 fans, followed by the Diamondbacks (166,063) and Giants (155,651).
Mesa took in $15,827,532 in sales tax in March 2018, up from the $14,620,629 it took in the year before.
Tempe, home to Tempe Diablo Stadium and the Los Angeles Angels, is not as reliant on Cactus League play to fill city coffers as other host cities.
Tempe’s sales tax revenue of $8,085,000 in March 2018 was the fourth highest monthly total calculated by the city in 2017-18. That total was significantly higher than the year prior, though.
Tempe’s March sales tax revenue grew by 13.6 percent in March 2018 over March 2017. Some of that growth could be attributed to the Angels, who had just signed international sensation Shohei Ohtani prior to Spring Training last year.
Ohtani, a rare two-way player who could pitch and hit towering homeruns, drew an unprecedented amount of Japanese fans and media to Angels games last year.
With Ohtani out with an injury this year, the Angels – and Tempe – could see Cactus League attendance slip.
Beyond the East Valley, the rest of the state benefits economically from the Cactus League as well.
A 2018 study from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business indicated that the Cactus League generated a total economic output of $644.2 million for the state of Arizona, an 11 percent increase from the output estimated by a study in 2015.
The study found that fans, teams and ballpark operations contribute approximately $24.2 million in taxes to the state and $7.7 million to local coffers.
Much of that impact comes in the form of hotel room stays and, not surprisingly, Scottsdale’s hoteliers are a major benefactor. The city collected $3,558,035 in bed tax collections in March last year. That total accounted for nearly 18 percent of the city’s total bed tax collections last fiscal year.
Scottsdale did not exceed $2.5 million in bed tax collections in any other month during that time.
Mesa, which has a less robust hotel industry than Scottsdale, saw a similar trend. The city collected $790,380 in bed tax revenues in March 2018, good for 18.5 percent of its total bed tax collections in fiscal year 2017-18.
The $1,133,000 in bed tax collections in Tempe in March 2018 was the second highest monthly total that fiscal year and marked 27.9 percent growth over the year prior.
Though Cactus League has long been a money maker for host cities, those municipalities still make efforts to attract the most fans possible every March.
Experience Scottsdale, the organization contracted by the city to promote Scottsdale as a tourist destination, conducts targeted advertising campaigns throughout the country to attract Spring Training travelers.
“Scottsdale is positioned to welcome fans from across the Cactus League,” said Stephanie Pressler, director of Community Affairs for Experience Scottsdale.
Pressler said the organization hosts a dedicated Spring Training website that includes schedules, maps, ticket information and special offers from hotels, venues and restaurants.
She said that Experience Scottsdale’s general advertising campaigns also hit markets that are home to teams that play in the Cactus League.
“Through our proprietary research, we know that our two top markets also have teams,” Pressler said. “With these large scale campaigns, we are capturing high value visitors and baseball fans alike.”
The organization’s top two targeted markets are Chicago and Los Angeles. Experience Scottsdale also advertises in San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix – all cities that have baseball teams that play in or near Scottsdale during Spring Training.
Beyond Experience Scottsdale’s campaigns, The City of Scottsdale’s Tourism & Events also conducts campaigns on the local level.
Scottsdale and other host cities are not just competing with each other for fans’ dollars every year, either.
Neighboring cities also make an effort to attract fans across municipal lines to boost sales at retailers, restaurants and hotels.
Municipalities without teams like Chandler and Gilbert have funded targeted ad campaigns for this purpose.
Chandler Tourism Manager Kimberly Janes said that March is a peak month for hotel occupancy in Chandler and demand for rooms is generally quite high and that the city targets out-of-town visitors from a number of feeder cities, including cold-weather communities and drive markets.
Last Year, Gilbert Tourism Administrator Glenn Schlottman said the town invested in weather-related ad campaigns targeted at fans who attended baseball games at the Oakland Coliseum in California and Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Those venues are the homes of the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs, respectively, both teams that play Cactus League ball in nearby Mesa.
The revenue rise is somewhat surprising for all cities involved considering overall Cactus League attendance was down in 2018 to 1.77 million people from 1.91 million the year prior, according to an East Valley Tribune report from April 2018.
That decline was due, in part, to shortened schedules for some teams as the league hosted 24 fewer games in 2018 than it did in 2017.
Both the Cubs and Giants hosted 16 home games in 2018 after having 17 and 18 home games in 2017, respectively.
Some Cactus League officials also attributed the lower attendance to a slow February start.
The Cactus League will get an early start again this year on Feb. 21, though it will again see its total games fall, from 234 in 2018 to 228 in 2019.
Still, Cactus League President Jeff Meyer said attendance numbers could a get a big boost at the end of March when fans have the rare chance to see two of Major League Baseball’s most popular teams – the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox – face off in two games at Sloan Park in Mesa.
The Red Sox’ Spring Training home is in Florida’s Grapefruit League, and the team does not typically travel to Arizona for games.