Major League Baseball (MLB) confirmed a delay to the start of its annual Spring Training amid a lockout stemming from owner and player disputes regarding contracts and structural logistics of the sport. However, the absence of these teams may bring about devastating ripple effects in the economies that host them.
Fifteen teams trek to The Sunshine State each spring, where they call a Florida city home for 6 weeks, bringing with them a boost to local economies in host cities like Sarasota, Fort Myers, and West Palm Beach, among others. In Lakeland, the host of the Detroit Tigers’ camp since 1946, Spring Training has become a key stream of revenue, accounting for $55 million for the local economy, according to the city.
“That’s just not what takes place around the stadium, but that’s also the trickle-down into bars, restaurants, rental car facilities, things of that nature,” Kevin Cook, Lakeland Director of Communication said in a recent statement to Scripps National. “That’s really big, and those businesses that count on those dollars. It’s going to definitely affect their pocketbook.”
Florida Sports Foundation estimates the entire Spring Training season brings in about $687 million to Florida, under the stipulation that fans return in full capacity. Many of the businesses susceptible to losses in revenue have previously endured uncertainty over the past 2 years as most, but not all, teams limited capacity and imposed fan restrictions amid pandemic protocols. The anticipation of a return to a more typical revenue stream is beginning to shatter, as little progress is made in MLB negotiations.
“We saw a dip last year for sure,” a baseball fan and manager of Delray Beach breakfast cafe told The Capitolist. “We’re only 20 minutes away from West Palm Beach, where we have 2 teams in March. You’d sometimes see players and fans in here before or after games, but that hasn’t happened since the pandemic.”
Delray Beach is a noted tourist town close to Jupiter and West Palm Beach, where a total of 4 teams play. It’s not an uncommon sight to stroll the beach and see an array of Yankees, Braves, and Marlins hats as tourists hit the waters before heading out to their teams’ game. Palm Beach County on average brings in $70 million in revenue that can be attributed to Spring Training activities, a non-zero amount that the county utilizes toward projects like countywide programs, infrastructure updates, and school initiatives.
As MLB team owners and player unions continue to stall negotiations at the league level, the grim economic impact becomes more likely of a scenario with each passing day, with concerns that the dispute could bleed into what should be the MLB regular season, having more direct impacts on the economy of St. Pete and Miami, who both have teams.
Little-to-no movement has been made toward a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), though owners and player associations have continued to meet in an attempt to begin play as quickly as possible.