Richard Ruelas: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Richard Ruelas of the "Arizona Republic" in for Ted Simons. For decades now, Major League Baseball teams have been taking advantage of Arizona's beautiful spring-time weather to get their clubs ready for the season. 15 teams make up the Cactus League, and spring training gives Arizonans and visitors from around the world a chance to see their favorite MLB stars up close. The Cactus League also pumps over $600 million into the state's economy. Games start tomorrow. Here to talk about it all is Mark Coronado, president of the Cactus League. Thanks for joining us.
Mark Coronado: Thanks for having me, Richard.
Richard Ruelas: You have a busy day tomorrow. Where will you start your day tomorrow?
Mark Coronado: I will be at Surprise, Arizona, watching the rangers and Royals take on opening day.
Richard Ruelas: Wonderful. How many visitors do we get and where do they come from?
Mark Coronado: Great question. Last year, we set attendance records. We attracted over 1.7 million fans from throughout the nation, and from all over the world. The interesting part of the 1.7, people ask what does that mean? I say what it means is that the survey that is we recently released, economic impact surveys, showed us that of that 1.7, over 60% came from out of state. When you ask the question, why did you come do the cactus, to Arizona, the answer was simply, 70% were saying, we came specifically for baseball. Secondly, we came to shop. Third, we came to go to your resorts and fine hotels and dine, and play golf, and actually visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona.
Richard Ruelas: Is it team-specific? You know, we obviously know Cubs fans travel well. Do people come for baseball or do they come for specific teams?
Mark Coronado: We are starting to see a combination of really the fans are staying an average of five days during their trip. And during that five days, you are starting to see the survey say, yes, they will come and see their favorite team, let's just say the Chicago Cubs. But they also want to plan that trip so the Cubs are playing the Giants. That's an important piece for them. So you note Cubs are a priority for that fan from Chicago or the Midwest but the other teams play a great impact in that number.
Richard Ruelas: But we have seen some new teams come into Phoenix rather than Florida and the grapefruit league, the big one being the Dodgers. How big an impact did that have on the Cactus League?
Mark Coronado: Tremendous impact. Great credibility. The proximity of Los Angeles obviously to the Phoenix metro market is a perfect fit. Everybody asked what are they doing way out in Florida? When the city of Glendale was able to connect and get that deal done it was certainly a big win for the Cactus League and we are very excited about that.
Richard Ruelas: Have we seen tourists, have you seen surveys of tourists who used to go to Florida and do you see things they like about the Phoenix experience over the grapefruit league experience?
Mark Coronado: That question has been asked. The accessibility of the airports. It's a lot easier. The Rockies are a great example. When you poll their fans, their fans will tell you that it's a lot easier to get a flight from Denver to Phoenix than it is Denver to Tucson. The Rockies have been a pleasant surprise in the Cactus League. Historically they were at the bottom third of our attendance figures when they were in Tucson. Now they are in the great facility which recently named by USA Today the number one facility in the Cactus League talkingstick, the Rockies are in the top third. This is my 21st year in the league, and the Rockies are certainly a big hit and it really has added to that 1.7 million figure.
Richard Ruelas: So it's not only the airport convenience but not only do you get to just see the Rockies, but you have the ability to travel around Phoenix and see a bunch of teams in a few days?
Mark Coronado: When you talk to the baseball fans who have visited both the grapefruit league and the Cactus League and we do ask that question, it's the proximity of the fields. No field is, no facility is less than probably 45 minutes away. We had a Cactus League lunch on Tuesday here in surprise. And George Brett gave a little speech about when, it was announced by the royals, 12, 13 years our go he was moving to Arizona he was totally against it. And he was telling a crowd of about 400, now that I am in Arizona, I don't -- I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to be in Arizona. He said number one reason is not just the weather. It's the proximity. He said our average trip in a grapefruit league was 2.5 hours. I mean, a full day's trip back and forth from a facility is probably an hour. So proximity plays a great, great part and that also complements the opportunity to stay in the Glendale area, you have four facilities to visit.
Richard Ruelas: I guess that's the other thing sort of as a local amenity that maybe we don't think about that much. That for those few weeks, a bunch of baseball hall of famers are in town, George Brett, Bob Euker, Ichiro. The names that have been through here. It's pretty good history of baseball.
Mark Coronado: And that's really the, that's really what I call that special niche of the Cactus League. Those individuals, those players, those hall of famers, those future hall of famers like we have Greg Maddux with the rangers at this point. They are so up close and personal. About 10:00 in the morning, there's more to it than just the ballgame. The teams go out, especially with these two team facilities. The teams are having to travel less so they practice more in the morning which is great for baseball. And those players and those coaches and those hall of famers have access to the fan and the fan has access to the players. So it's a lot easier for the fans to get connected and feel like they are part of the event.
Richard Ruelas: Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this. But for most fans it's not even the game that really is the score really is the least important part of it. I don't know whether I should be letting you in on those fan secrets. You had an OP-Ed in the "Arizona Republic" that raised some alarm bells about maybe the funding of the Cactus League and some danger of us losing some of these teams based on the funding mechanism. How right teams funded and why should we be worried about the future of this league?
Mark Coronado: Well, I don't think that we are really at risk right now to lose a team. And I don't hear that kinds of conversation. But we should take heed on the history of what the grapefruit did do. The Arizona state tourism authority, they do a tremendous job. If you are familiar with the proposition 302 that was passed in early 2000, that generated money for the cardinal facility but it also generated money for future renovation and new facilities for the Cactus League. It's driven by a car rental tax. When the recession hit in 2008, obviously tourism will tell you tourism declined. That bucket has not proven to be sufficient. It's just the economic times. But what the culture and the Cactus League and Major League Baseball has changed. Where in the early '90s and late '80s we would negotiate contract, 20-year contracts and talk about negotiating and talking about renovation in year 20. Well, baseball technology has changed. The clubhouses are being utilized more than, more often than they used to be. It's not simply a place for the player to check in, get dressed and go out to the field. They have hydrotherapy. They have cardio equipment. They have hydrotherapy pools. They have video rooms for teaching. And for evaluation. They have basically theaters so they can have meetings. I mean the clubhouses --
Richard Ruelas: As They have seen other new facilities and visitors center of the other facilities, they get a little jealous of having to go to their 20-year-old stadium?
Mark Coronado: They are always trying to keep up with the Joneses. It's all about getting to the World Series. If your training facilities are inadequate they feel someone else has a an edge. When we built surprise in 2003 our clubhouse was 32,000 square feet, the largest in the Cactus League. You can't find one less than 60, 70,000 square foot. Therapy pools, et cetera, et cetera.
Richard Ruelas: So what has to happen if the rental car tax isn't going to be enough to sustain this? Where do you think money should come from? And how difficult it will be to get that money?
Mark Coronado: I think it will be difficult. And I think we need to take like I said heed from that experience that the grapefruit league had to go through. You know, ASTA sunsets in 2030.
Richard Ruelas: Stadium and tourism north.
Mark Coronado: That doesn't mean it can't come back and won't be extended but the reality is I think if we all as operators talked, and we do talk, the teams are asking for these renovations every five to 10 years. We don't want to wait, getting the Legislature and a Governor's office to embrace legislation that possibly creates another, another funding source, that takes time.
Richard Ruelas: A different source than cars are car rentals.
Mark Coronado: All to be evaluated. It's really a concept but when you are talking about a $632 million impact, annually, $422 million of that in the month of March, the Cactus League is no longer popcorn, peanuts and beer, it's a corporate entity. We are a corporation. And I keep on trumping the horn that we are a corporate entity riding up to that top of that mountain of prosperity. I have to believe the Legislature and the Governor, if they knew they were losing a $630 million industry, there would be a sense of, hey, let's talk about this. The Cactus League is now becoming more corporate and more politically engaged because that's a future of our league.
Richard Ruelas: And you would think, can we just raise the ticket prices? Can we charge more for parking? Can the teams pull money from payroll and pay for facilities that they think will help them win the title?
Mark Coronado: Well, that's the balance. And I think the teams are willing to talk to us about revenue splits and opportunities to raise revenue at a facility. And actually, it's that old adage have the tourist pay for the experience he is coming to town to experience. Those are all part of the equation. But the, it goes beyond the Cactus League and spring training. These facilities are used 12 months of the year, not only by Major League Baseball, communities, youth programs, that bring also in economic impact. So you know, these facilities are just more than that. Cactus League, 12, 13-week season, it really is a 12 month industry.
Richard Ruelas: Do you think you will have more luck with cities than the Legislature? Do cities have a way to take care of this?
Mark Coronado: You know, these economic times, it's pretty tough. Most of our cities are laying off people, our municipalities are having to furlough, many of the municipalities having haven't give their employees raises. Made the capital projects, came to a halt. You know, our goal is this, in the Arizona office of tourism and the Arizona Commerce Authority are partners and we all are in the same page. We are a tourist destination. We are a tourism piece of our great fabric of the state. And we believe that if we are valued and we believe that people understand the impact but we need to explore other opportunities so we can complement what they are doing and carry it further.
Richard Ruelas: Before I let you go, World Series prediction for this year?
Mark Coronado: Oh. of course, I can tell you, I am the parks and rec direct inner surprise so I have to tell you this. It has to be Royals or rangers at least on one side of the ticket. OK?
Richard Ruelas: Have a good season. Mark Coronado, thanks for joining us.
Mark Coronado: Hope to see you at the ballpark. Thank you, sir.