Sunday, March 8, 2015

The "Murky" Economics of Spring Training...and How Florida Could Do it Better

This time of year, we don't just see a lot of "spring training is back" stories, but also a lot of "spring training means big bucks" stories.  Every reporter in Florida - including yours truly - has done them at some point.

But as this blog has covered before, reporters don't challenge outrageous economic impact claims enough...even though the claims seldom hold water.

Last year, I showed how Charlotte County's Rays Spring Training impact report wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, let alone the tens of thousands of dollars the county paid for it.

And the National Center for Business Journalism detailed how teams force cities to bend over backward to finance new stadiums without the benefit of clear direct economic benefits.

And Neil deMause wrote on how most reporters ignore warning signs and just repeat whatever claims are handed to them on a platter.

Sadly, in 2015, most news reporters just don't do a good job covering sports business stories.  Last week, one story on Tampa's FOX station reported the seven MLB teams that train in Florida (there are really 15) meant $753 million to Florida annually (calling BS on that study).  Then again, those numbers seem to have come from the governor's office, so take them with a grain of salt.

ALSO READ: If MLB Teams Had No Stadium Subsidies, Would They End Spring Training?

Shall we dissect more examples?

A 2013 Blue Jays spring training economic impact report - commissioned by the City of Dunedin, which is trying to get county funds to upgrade the Jays' facilities - claimed $80 million in annual economic impact. 

However, the report uses questionable methods to get to that number, including trying to take responsibility for the spending of 25,000 out-of-state visitors who acknowledged they were in Florida primarily for something other than baseball.

Then there was a 2009 Grapefruit League economic impact report, commissioned by the state, which wasn't all that bad, actually.  But it didn't mention anything about the "substitution effect" of spring training gobbling up the disposable income of Floridians who may have otherwise spent the money in other areas.  So $96 million of economic impact from Florida residents wasn't "new" economy from Spring Training, just expenditures transferred from other Florida industries such as movie theaters, beach restaurants, theme parks, etc.

Sommer Mathis writes in "Spring Training Stadiums Are a Bad Investment, And No One Cares" that "the economics of spring training are murky at best, and a truly bad bet at worst."  This isn't because anyone questions how out-of-state tourists are flocking to Florida for's because Florida and Arizona have made so many concessions to MLB, the biggest benefits to taxpayers are negated by having to constantly put tens of millions into new stadium projects.

It's a complicated ROI argument, and nobody has a precise answer. Spring Training is a great thing for Florida...which makes it all-the-more frustrating when legislators pass new stadium subsidy laws that their own staffers indicate will have "an indeterminate negative fiscal impact” on spring training.  Gov. Scott signed that bill into law last year.


  1. We just need to move the Rays out of St.Pete. The city council and the residents are out of touch with reality. People from St. Pete don't even own the majority of season tickets. MLB told them not to build a ballpark in St. Pete. I mean St. Pete is the joke of the sports world. St. Pete can get over their feelings being hurt that no one wants them. St. Pete is so pathetic.

  2. Another data point regarding lack of evidence of sports franchises having economic benefit is at entitled:
    "R.I. GOP official Steven Frias says research finds no economic benefit from having sports franchise" and validated by PoltiFact.