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Spring training brings more than baseball

By Staff | Feb 21, 2019

With spring training schedules set to be in full-tilt this weekend, Lee County can be grateful to host two talented Major League Baseball teams that fans from far and wide come out to see-and most notably the dollars they bring.

A survey conducted during the 2018 spring training season by David Peterson Associates for Lee County Sports Development showed that travelers spent nearly $69 million in the area while visiting-with $56.7 million of those dollars being spent outside of the ballparks ($12.1 million inside).

A special focus was made on those who do not live in the area full-time and come to Lee County specifically to get a first-look at their favorite club.

“We really wanted to focus on the tourism value of spring training,” said Jeff Mielke, executive director of Lee County Sports Development.

Surveys were conducted at the spring homes of the Boston Red Sox at Jet Blue Park and the Minnesota Twins at CenturyLink Sports Complex-both in Fort Myers just five miles apart.

Between the two ballparks, there were 276,458 attendees at spring training games in 2018.

Forty-one percent of attendees surveyed reported that their sole reason for visiting Lee County was for baseball, while half said that it was a primary reason.

Of those who noted it was not a primary purpose for their vacation, half still said that they chose Lee County because they have spring training teams here.

The survey summarized that for attendees that indicated that spring training was the primary reason they came to Lee County, $58.4 million was spent-85 percent of the total dollars spent by attendees.

The survey also found that many of these people who come for spring training have been doing so for years and years.

Mielke said that once people get here and explore the area in their free time away from the ballpark, it can result is return trips throughout the year when spring games are not happening simply because they enjoy the area.

“We want to introduce people to Lee County,” he said. “Once people get out and explore the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, along with the many other things our area has to offer, they want to come back.”

Twenty percent of reporting surveys said that they first attended spring training before 2005.

Two-thirds report that they definitely or probably will return with the primary purpose being to attend games.

More than half say that they definitely or probably will visit Lee County for trips in the next year not having to do with baseball, with more than half responding similarly when asked about visiting beyond next year.

The team’s two fan bases, most notably the Boston Red Sox who were the 2018 World Series Champions, play a big role in the number of visitors to the area come late February into March.

More than two-thirds of visitors are fans of one of the teams located in Fort Myers, the study showed.

“Both of these teams have really strong fan bases,” said Mielke. “Passionate fan bases combined with cold weather climates up north drive people down. It can be a great reason to get out of the cold for these visitors.”

This can often lead to the “snowbird” effect, or, people who purchase homes in the county to live in during the winter months.

Half of those who attended games in 2018 and who own a home in the area say that spring training was at least an important factor in their decision to buy property, the report said.

A similar survey was done in 2009 by Lee County Sports Development and a significant jump in the economic impact was found in the 10 years since.

The total dollars spent in ’09 attributed to spring training was $47 million-compared to the nearly $69 million in ’18.

Mielke said that a big reason for that is the recession the country was in during that time period.

With the economy now in a more stable place, along with the new stadiums in Jet Blue Park and CenturyLink Sports Complex, it came as little surprise to see the spike in dollars coming into the county as a result of these teams’ presence.

According to the survey, those in Lee County as a result of spring training spend, on average, $160.95 dollars a day, whether that be on lodging, food, shopping, etc.

On average, attendees stay in the area for five nights, with 71 percent staying in paid accommodations.

These numbers can be felt not just in the ballparks, but for businesses across the region which, especially this summer, took a massive hit due to red tide and blue-green algae events.

“Every little bit helps,” said Mielke on if this year’s numbers are more vital than in years past. “Every way we can diversify tourism helps. The more diverse options we can offer, the more stable we’ll be. Future numbers will depend on the economy.”

He said that 2018 would be a solid benchmark year to reference going forward in the future.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj