Fueling the Local Economy through America’s Pastime

Local baseball and softball fans aren’t the only ones excited about the words, “Play ball!” echoing throughout Brevard County stadiums over the next few months.

From Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals Spring Training to Minor League Baseball’s Brevard County Manatees season, Little League and all the other amateur tournaments held in the county, baseball and softball provide an economic boom to the local economy.

“We definitely see an up-tick as far as business coming in, and it’s usually during a standard slow time for restaurants in this area,” says Jamie Meagher, marketing director/curator for the Pizza Gallery and Grill at The Avenue Viera.  “It’s been a good thing for us for sure.”

Though there is no exact figure, financial estimates for the county run into the millions.  A 2009 Major League Baseball Florida Spring Training Impact Survey estimated the total value upon the state economy at “$752.3 million in total spending, which generated $284.2 million in total labor income and supported or created 9,205 part-time and full-time jobs.”

If You Build It…

Players and fans from all over the state – in fact, all over the country – will descend on Brevard County during baseball and softball season.  That means money spent on hotels, food, gas and all kinds of entertainment, which in turn could create the need for businesses to hire more staff to accommodate the increase in customer traffic.

Even some local churches see a benefit to having Spring Training at Space Coast Stadium in Viera.  Pastor Enrique Pacheco of the Iglesia Cristiana La Novia del Cordero church in Melbourne says he knows when Spring Training has started because he sees more people in the church pews.

“We noticed the increase about three years ago when a couple of [Nationals] pitchers showed up,” says Pacheco.  “Now I guess we have a reputation and last year we had about 12 players attend services regularly.”

Seasonal Spending

The Nationals sold 79,000 tickets during Spring Training last season, bringing in just over $1 million.  Another $25,000 came in merchandise sales.  The club used between six to 10 local vendors at the stadium and also helped local restaurants with a “Where 2 Dine” program that allowed season ticket holders to present their stubs and receive a discount.  This is the second year of the program and there are more than 10 restaurants on board.

The team also spends another $500,000 on hotel rooms for its personnel, though most of the players who come to the area for Spring Training often rent houses or apartments, which also adds to the local economy.

Though they didn’t disclose financial figures, the Manatees saw increases of 30 percent in ticket sales (they drew 90,000 fans) and saw a 35 percent increase in merchandise.  For baseball fans who want to see up-and-coming talent that could be playing in the Major Leagues in the near future, the Manatees have always provided a solid entertainment value for local fans.

“I think the Manatees give the citizens of Brevard a very affordable entertainment option in their own backyard,” says General Manager Kyle Smith.

Little League Carries Big Impact

While the Nationals and Manatees certainly have a strong impact on Brevard County, the fact that Space Coast Stadium has been made available to Little League and youth tournaments also is a major benefit.  With the recent addition of fields at Viera Regional Park and Chain of Lakes State Park in Titusville to go along with established venues like Cocoa Expo, the local area is in position to attract big events.

Brevard County hosts the Little League Southeast Senior Baseball Regional Tournament every year, bringing in teams from Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia and of course, Florida.  There also are several sectional and state tournaments which bring in seven to eight teams for a weekend.  Softball also traditionally hosts a sectional or state tournament.

“Little League does its share to bring in money to the country,” says Ron Jernick, district administrator for Little League Baseball, Florida District 2.

Rusty Buchanan, executive director of the Space Coast Sports Commission, says the quality of Brevard County’s fields, and its relative location to some of Florida’s biggest tourist attractions, has allowed it to attract big-time events like the AAU 14-under national baseball championships, which should bring 45 to 50 teams to Brevard County in July.

“The economic impact of this one event is several million dollars,” explains Buchanan.  “It will generate, in hotelier points, probably between 2,500 to 3,000 hotel nights during that one week.  Of course, none of this would be possible without the facilities to do it.”

The commission looked at seven tournaments scheduled for this year and put the estimated economic impact at $3,670,159 – and that’s a conservative figure.

Catching the Newest Wave

While baseball certainly brings in fans and dollars, Buchanan says there is a new demographic that is really catching fire.  “Probably the biggest home run that anybody can hit from a tourism standpoint is softball,” he says.  “Girls fast-pitch softball is where it’s at.  It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the country.”

Just like youth baseball, bringing in 13-to-14 and 15-year-old softball players to the county can be highly profitable, because they will likely be accompanied by one, perhaps both parents … plus all that disposable income.

While Brevard County is doing well when it comes to the economic impact of baseball and softball, there is certainly the potential to do even more.  Thanks to the Nationals, the County has the use of Space Coast Stadium for 35 days a year.  So far, there have not been enough events to make use of all that time that has been afforded, but that’s something Buchanan hopes to change in the near future.

“Baseball is kind of a neat, hand-holding thing in that we’ve got professionals, but as a result of the professionals, we’ve got the door open to do a lot of neat stuff with amateurs that create an ongoing economic impact through the sport of baseball,” he says.  “That’s huge.”