The Great Spring Training Hoax

Neil deMause ( comments this morning:

A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018.

I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.”

Which is why, when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.

Neil’s comment comes on the heels of a City of Scottsdale announcement that they’ve awarded the first contracts toward the renovation of Scottsdale Municipal Stadium, which is the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants.

The local “independent” newspaper recently ran a glowing puff piece (“the true straw that stirs that economic cocktail has always been Scottsdale Stadium”) that regurgitated the city press release:

Funding for the design-build services is within the allotted Scottsdale Stadium capital improvement fund encompassing phase one of that overhaul renovation project with an estimated cost of $60 million, a city staff report states.

Like all good government projects, the bill is going to wind up being double that. And I don’t believe for a second that the city has $60 million in a bank account titled “Stadium improvements.”

The article says the renovation plans were drafted in consultation with “stadium stakeholders,” the list of which includes the Scottsdale Charros.

Who are the Charros, and what is their “stake” in Scottsdale Stadium, you may ask?

They are an all-male, invitation-only business networking and social club, which has a multi-decade contract for exclusive control of Scottsdale Stadium during spring training.

Former city councilman Dennis Robbins is the executive director of the group, but I can’t seem to find a list of the other members… whom the Charros website claim to have,

…worked within the civic and political system for positive community development as elected officials, as citizens appointed to city boards and commissions, and as campaign chairs on bond issues and other causes. Others have served in dozens of leadership roles in civic, charitable, educational, philanthropic, and business organizations.

The Charros came under fire a few years ago for their clearly-discriminatory, de facto membership policy. As reported by the now defunct Scottsdale Tribune:

The investigation into the city’s relationship with the Scottsdale Charros, a nonprofit organization founded in 1961, comes at the behest of John Greco, a former interim city manager of Tempe.

At the commission’s meeting Monday, Greco questioned whether it’s suitable for the city, which touts its anti-discrimination policies, to have a 20-year contract with the all-male Charros to bring the San Francisco Giants to the city-owned Scottsdale Stadium annually for spring training.

“The Charros as a private organization has every right to discriminate. What they don’t have a right to do is … act as a city agent,” Greco said.

He acknowledged that the group doesn’t have any bylaws that prohibit women from joining, but alleged the group is a “good ol’ boys network” since all of its members are male.

“Technically, there’s no rule against it, but are (women) in the Charros? No,” he said.

Karen Gillen, a lawyer with the Phoenix firm Ogletree Deakins representing the Charros, said the group does not receive public money, but rather rents Scottsdale Stadium from the city with a portion of the proceeds from spring training and gives the rest to various charities.

“The Charros are acting lawfully,” she said. “They’re in compliance with the laws, and we have no reason to believe the city isn’t acting lawfully, as well.” But Greco said the group uses a stadium built with taxpayer money, and by being men only, women are excluded from enjoying the business contacts men may acquire through the group and the publicity of donating large sums to charity.

“The Charros do wonderful work and have had a tremendous impact on the community. That’s not at issue,” [Greco] said. “Because they do such good work, nobody every thought twice about the fact they have no women. The end doesn’t justify the means.”

As far as I know, nothing ever came of this discussion. I believe the Charros still have no women members, yet obviously they continue to, in effect, control the stadium, the spending of tax dollars on the stadium, and they reap the benefits. I should probably add that a not-insignificant chunk of the $60 million in proposed stadium spending includes upgrades to the 550-seat “Charro Lodge” VIP area of the stadium.

However, Greco’s comments about the Charro’s “wonderful work,” need some expansion. I’d like to remind all readers that the $300,000 or so in annual “philanthropy” the Charros claim, comes to them by virtue of exclusive control of a taxpayer-owned, taxpayer-maintained, and now taxpayer-improved asset. So the Charros are taking your money, giving it away, and getting credit for themselves as being charitable. In 2014, $250,000 of that went in a single-chunk to another black hole in the city budget: the Museum of the West. I guess the teachers and scholarship recipients came up a little short that year.

Scottsdale Charros donate $250K to new museum

Further, $300k is what the Charros claim, but how much did they actually net? And how would it compare to just having the city manage our own asset, with our own staff?

Oh, and a final tidbit from Dennis Robbins:

We produce, print and sell the Official Spring Training Magazine, which you will encounter upon entering the stadium.

It’s my understanding that the spring training magazine is actually printed by the sister company of the aforementioned “independent” newspaper. Yet no journalistic disclosure appears in their puff piece!

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