Florida Keeps Losing Teams to Arizona
Heat vs. humidity: Florida's Grapefruit League keeps striking out to Arizona's Cactus League.
The Tampa Bay Rays will no longer train at Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg (left). The team moved spring training to Charlotte County. [Photo: Skip Milos]
The Florida Sports Foundation’s most recent appraisal of spring training baseball’s economic impact in Florida was $453 million a year. But that was three years ago, when 18 of baseball’s 30 teams trained in Florida. This year, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians moving their spring training facilities to Arizona, Florida’s Grapefruit League is down to 16 teams. And next year, when the Cincinnati Reds move to Arizona, there will just be 15 — giving the two states the same number of teams for the first time.
Nick Gandy, the sports foundation’s director of communications, isn’t sure if the $453-million figure is still accurate, so the foundation will study the impact again this spring. What’s clear, however, is that Arizona is chipping away at Florida’s historical dominance of spring training baseball. In the midst of an economic slulmp, Florida cities are having a tough time competing with suburban Phoenix cities, such as Surprise and Goodyear, which are enticing teams with new stadiums and training facilities. According to the Arizona Republic, for example, Glendale’s new spring facility for the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox will cost $115 million. The teams’ combined contribution: $7.2 million. Another facility in Goodyear, to be shared by the Indians and Reds, will cost $108 million.
Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona will serve as the new spring training home for the Indians and Reds.
Gandy says Florida isn’t giving up. Lee County, after enduring some heavy flirting between the Boston Red Sox and Sarasota, recently signed a 30-year deal, which includes a new stadium, to keep the Red Sox in Fort Myers. And Sarasota, looking to replace the Arizona-bound Reds, has turned its attention to the Baltimore Orioles, who train in Fort Lauderdale. Charlotte County, which lost the Texas Rangers to Arizona in 2002, upgraded its stadium and landed the Tampa Bay Rays, who are leaving St. Petersburg without a spring training team.
“These cities are stepping up to the table and saying, ‘OK, Arizona, your time is done,’ ” Gandy says. “Enough’s enough.”