Boys of Spring Return, With Trickle of Cash for Baseball Meccas

Spring training is like Christmas for cities in South Florida and Arizona that every March host baseball’s most committed fans. But strict capacity limits at ballparks will cut into the cash haul that local businesses rely on for a major chunk of their annual profits.

Snowbirds from around the country pack bars, restaurants and hotels to see the sport’s biggest stars up close in the Grapefruit (Florida) and Cactus (Arizona) Leagues. The outbreak of Covid-19 shut down spring training halfway through the monthlong preseason.

The fans returned last weekend, with stadium capacity averaging just under 20% for Cactus League facilities, which are all concentrated around Phoenix. But some parks have greatly reduced caps: Scottsdale Stadium, spring home of the San Francisco Giants, is allowing no more than 1,000 fans, or 8.5% of capacity, at a time.

Boys of Spring Return, With Trickle of Cash for Baseball Meccas

With six out of 10 Cactus League fans coming from out of state, the restrictions cut into tourism revenue. The league saw a $300 million decline in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season compared with 2018.

Scottsdale’s acting city treasurer, Judy Doyle, is “cautiously optimistic” for a recovery now that spring training has returned, along with other tourist attractions such as the coming Barrett Jackson car auction.

Updated projections for the sales tax, the city’s largest revenue source, boosted its current fiscal year haul by almost $15 million to $126.4 million. Last fiscal year, the city took in $122.9 million from the levy.

Pod Seating

“The bulk of our business -- 40% usually for restaurants -- will be February, March and April,” said Nicole Klisara, owner of Tommy V’s Urban Kitchen and Bar near Scottsdale Stadium. The family-owned Italian restaurant has two outdoor patios that can seat about 45 guests under the city’s current 50% capacity rule.

“It won’t be what it used to be, but we’re hoping that we can at least have more business from last March,” said Klisara, who is emphasizing the health and safety of customers, as is the Cactus League. Its protocols -- contact-free transactions, pod seating and mandatory masks -- aim to make spring training a “safe and secure environment for all fans,” said Bridget Binsbacher, the league’s executive director.

“We’re confident that over time, spring training will help lead the recovery of the hard-hit state and local tourism industries,” she said.

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