It is a disappointing scene in Arizona. The 10 Cactus League ballparks are empty in March once again. Now the 2022 MLB spring training season is in serious jeopardy.
This after the Major League Baseball Player’s Association agreed unanimously not to accept the league’s final proposal on a new collective bargaining agreement. As a result, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the first two series of the regular season are canceled.
There are hopes both sides can reach a deal soon to salvage the remainder of the regular season. However, it seems unlikely that an agreement will be reached in time to allow Spring Training baseball to take place in Arizona. Now the Grand Canyon State stands to take a significant financial hit without springtime baseball.
Cactus League dealt a lousy hand for 3rd straight year
Spring training in Arizona was set to mark its 75th anniversary in 2022. The Cactus League has dealt with an abbreviated schedule and seating restrictions the past two years due to COVID-19. Now, a labor dispute and player lockout could shut down spring training entirely.
Meaning thousands of out-of-state tourists are canceling their travel plans, rental-car reservations and hotel bookings. Now hundreds of millions of tourism dollars for Arizona are at risk.
The start of Cactus League spring training games was already pushed back to March 8. Bridget Binsbacher, the Cactus League’s executive director, told PlayAZ it is not a situation they have much control over.
“We’re not in the room or part of those discussions so like everyone we’re just waiting to see what happens and what the announcements are,” said Binsbacher.
The ten ballparks around metro Phoenix can open quickly if the MLB and MLBPA reach a deal soon. However, the fact that it has taken this long without a resolution is discouraging.
“It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing,” said Binsbacher. “This year with all the uncertainty we are going to be flexible. We know for sure that our facilities will be ready for whatever opportunity comes our way so that we can make the most of it.”
Financial impact of Spring Training baseball in Arizona
The possible cancellation of Spring Training isn’t coming at a great time for Arizonans. Their businesses have already dealt with the past two spring trainings either modified or cut short because of COVID-19.
Arizona State University’s most recent economic impact study of the Cactus League was conducted around the 2020 spring season, which was canceled March 12 when the pandemic led to business closures, with 139 games played of the 237 that were scheduled.
Arizona businesses could pay the price for no spring training
In 2020, the league accounted for 3,200 jobs, around $18 million in state and local tax revenue, $168 million in direct spending by out-of-state fans and an overall economic impact of $364 million during that shortened season. The study shows that out-of-town visitors stayed five nights on average and spent about $336 per day.
The numbers were around double for 2018, the last full season for which a study was conducted. Spring baseball in Arizona brought in 6,400 jobs and an economic impact of $644 million.
“We know what the impact can be, we know what it’s been historically and we were so ready to be part of the recovery for Arizona tourism and the state’s economy,” said Binsbacher. “We know from what we’ve been through the last few years that we can be resilient.”
There was spring training in 2021. However, stadiums operated with only 20% to 25% seating capacity as another COVID-19 precaution. So taking out spring training altogether could be devastating to the small businesses that surround the ten Cactus League ballparks.
“All of those restaurants and bars that surround those facilities rely on the influx of toursim that Spring Training brings,” said Binsbacher. “Behind everyone of those is a family or person that this impacts. So it’s a tremondous trickle down.”
The 2018 study shows that $122 million was spent at the establishments surrounding Cactus League baseball stadiums.
No deal: What the MLB and MLBPA can’t agree on
MLB and the MLBPA left the negotiating table without an agreement. The two sides are heading home after nine days of talks. It is unclear what the next steps are before returning to the bargaining table.
According to reports, the MLB’s final proposal featured an increase for minimum salaries from $675,000 to $700,000, moving up $10,000 per year. Those figures are based on there being an increase to 12 postseason teams and the addition of five lottery slots in the draft.
Among the many disputes, the players union is seeking changes to the league’s eligibility for free agency. Players currently need six years of MLB service time to satisfy that requirement. The union hopes to see that threshold lowered, allowing them to become free agents while younger and more valuable. They also want to see a designated hitter (DH) added to National League rosters, which players hope will secure a job for a veteran.
Betting on baseball delayed
Another downside to this lockout is the inability for the MLB to capitalize on the hot Arizona sports betting market. Legal sports betting launched on September 9, 2021. That was around the tail end of the 2021 baseball season.
According to WynnBet Sportsbook, some 13.9% of all wagers placed through the app nationwide stemmed from MLB betting in 2021. In Arizona, it was 7.3% of the handle taken by WynnBet AZ. And that was with only about two months worth of betting that included the end of the regular season, the playoffs and the World Series.