Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can move on to more important things – like preparing for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting a week from tomorrow, and the games start in less than a month. Now is the time to take a more sociological look at baseball’s spring tradition.
Municipalities consider building or upgrading Spring Training stadiums to be an investment. It has been estimated that the Grapefruit League has a $753 million impact in Florida and the Cactus League adds $422 million to Arizona’s economy. In addition, communities emphasize the non-tangible benefits of hosting a Spring Training team, such as identifying with Major League Baseball.
Economists, on the other hand, argue that funding a Spring Training stadium does not make financial sense for towns in Florida and Arizona. Since MLB Spring Training lasts only 6 weeks, there may be better way to invest municipal funds. Studies have shown that when teams leave town, there is no discernible impact on sales, tax revenue, or other indicators of economic impact. In fact, some argue that the studies that do show a positive economic impact of hosting a Spring Training team are generally sponsored by the cities themselves and leave out important factors, such as revenues that only go to the team and are not reinvested in the community, such as proceeds from ticket sales.
Naturally, sociologists fall somewhere in between. As social scientists, we must examine the statistics and look at the impact of a Spring Training facility in terms of revenue, return on investment, tourism, and other economic factors. On the other hand, quality of life is an important factor in retaining residents, bringing in visitors, and encouraging people to move to an area. Hosting a Major League Baseball team, even if only for a month and half each year, may prove to be one of those intangibles that makes a place worth living in or visiting. Sociologists continue to seek meaningful ways to measure the intangible benefits and determine both the social and economic impact of baseball.
Until then, I look forward to pitchers and catchers report in less than 10 days!