Ted Simons: Baseball is back. Today is opening day around the big leagues including here in downtown folks, where the Diamondbacks beat the Padres 6-3 at Chase Field. For many fans around the country today was their first chance to attend a game since last fall. Of course, here in Arizona, we have been enjoying baseball since early March. And here to recap Arizona's spring training season and give us an update on efforts to keep the Chicago Cubs in Arizona is Cactus League president Robert Brinton and house majority leader John McComish, sponsor of legislation to finance a new spring training home for the Cubs. Good to have you both on "Horizon."
Both: Good to be here.
Ted Simons: Let's talk with you. Attend dance for spring training this season, looks like on a per game basis pretty good.
Robert Brinton: Yes. We were up in attendance per game. We had projected that that would not happen due to the economy. But we had tremendous walk-up crowds, and it gave us a tremendous boost.
Ted Simons: Why the uptick? Why do you think that happened?
Robert Brinton: I think that people saw the weather that was good, cool weather, they had an opportunity to go to a game here in Arizona. And they took advantage of it. We also had some benefits of spring breaks that are close to Easter coming in at that last week out of the Midwest, out of the northwest. And that also gave us a boost.
Ted Simons: Reds and Indians with the smallest crowds.
Robert Brinton: Yes.
Ted Simons: How come?
Robert Brinton: Well, I think first of all, they're new. Even though the Indians were part of the original Cactus League ensemble, they are recently back. The Reds are brand now. It will take a while to build up that. Plus there's a lot of teams on the west side now so there's a little bit of cannibalism, which team to you go see on any given day?
Ted Simons: I was going to ask but that. It seems like there were an awful lot of options. Could that hurt some of the newcomers?
Robert Brinton: It will do it a little bit but if you build it ahead of time the growth of the valley will continue. We will have those numbers continue to rise. So short-term, it's a little uncertain but long term it's very certain.
Ted Simons: Nonstadium numbers. What are you hearing regarding hotels, other aspects of the economy?
Robert Brinton: We are getting lots of reports, best March, better than last March, in both occupancy and rate. We’ll soon see an uptick. That's the economic impact that the Cactus League has that that money, new money being injected into the Arizona economy.
Ted Simons: You are probably not hearing too many good things out of Tucson. What are your thoughts? Spring training is no longer in Tucson.
Robert Brinton: Yeah, it's an evolution. We used to have spring training in Yuma. That was just too par and Palm Springs, that was too far. Tucson was OK. Now as we see it continue to evolve, Tucson now is too far according to teams that don't want to travel. So it's a very sad situation that spring training isn't there but it's something that was a natural evolution.
Ted Simons: Some Tucson officials say the city got a raw deal out of all of this. How do you respond?
Robert Brinton: I would like to baseball down there. They are working to get Japanese teams and Korean teams for spring training and hopefully some other things to help soften that blow but there is no doubt that that's too bad. Because, boy, we would love to keep it in Tucson.
Ted Simons: A lot of folks are hope whack happened in Tucson doesn't happen in Mesa or the valley in general regarding the Cubs. Give us your thoughts. What is the latest regarding keeping the Cubs in town for spring training?
John McComish: We have passed a bill out of the house and is waiting in the Senate right now and it's kind of a place holder. And we are waiting to get an agreement amongst all the parties, and so far we don't have that agreement. So what I'm hoping is that there's a memorandum of understanding that the Cubs and the city of Mesa has that says that the legislature has to have the legislature active part of the solution by July 1st. We are probably going to sine die the end of April so the clock is ticking and it's going to be very difficult for us to get something done by the end of April. So I'm hoping that we can get this memorandum of understanding amended so we can have a little more time in order to work out a solution.
Ted Simons: A surcharge, is that still part of the process? Is that still in the game, as it were?
John McComish: Well, it is but it's very unlikely. We had tremendous push back from the individual teams, the other 14 teams in the Cactus League in terms of a surcharge, and that was very disappointing to me. A tremendous pushed back there. I have said I don't want to go forward with a legislative solution unless we have all parties on board.
Ted Simons: So the surcharge on tickets not looking too good. What about rental car fees?
John McComish: That is not.
Ted Simons: That's out, too?
John McComish: Yes.
Ted Simons: Were you surprised by the blow back when the ticket surcharge issue came up?
John McComish: Yeah, I really was. I think it's short sided on the part of the other teams, and a little disingenuous because some of the teams as it is now charge a surcharge when the Cubs come and play them. So they recognize the importance of the Cubs are, and they are actually charging a surcharge themselves.
Ted Simons: Some cities say you start changing ticket prices, changing contract and agreements, Phoenix says if they change a ticket price for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Brewers in the contract for a nominal fee can fly the coop at any time. Were there things in there that folks just weren't aware of?
John McComish: No. What we tried to do in the amendment to the bill before it went out of the house was to address that issue because I certainly don't want any teams going out of business or having any problems like you talked about. And we put an amendment in the bill which would direct the revenue, instead of to the cities or the teams, that surcharge revenue would have gone directly to the State Department of revenue and we believe or at least our lawyers do that that would have avoided that issue.
Ted Simons: There are groups that say, go ahead, let the Cubs go. Diamondbacks are coming up, Rockies are coming back. They will more than pick up the slack. Valid?
Robert Brinton: We were at seven teams. We were now at 15. We have had winning season after winning season in terms of attracting. We need to keep all the teams. When we look at it in terms of teams that both provide tremendous economic impact due to the out of state visitors and that the fan attendance is there, there is no doubt that the Cubs end up there if you take the top 20 games that have happened here in the Cactus League 15 of them involved the Cubs. So we really do have to look at the Cubs as an integral part at the same time, we have got to make sure that everyone has a place at the table and everyone is involved in solving the problem.
Ted Simons: Everyone being involved including major league baseball. How much of a push is major league baseball have in all this?
John McComish: Major league baseball has been involved in from the beginning and they are really involve now. Commissioner says he want to be personally involved. I have spoken with him and I know Robert Brinton speaks with him on a regular basis and they really want to be involved and that's good. Because I think the push from somebody with the stature of the commissioner of baseball can help. But as I said earlier the clock is ticking and we really need to get something done.
Ted Simons: Very quickly, give me a percentage that the Cubs will be here in the next few years for spring training.
John McComish: The Cubs will be here, I will say 80-20 in favor of keeping the Cubs.
Robert Brinton: Absolutely. We are going to get it done. This is like any baseball game. We are in the early innings. Don't be giving up the ship yet.
Ted Simons: In other words, when you got a 6-1 lead don't put in a relief pitcher who gives up back to back home runs?
Robert Brinton: Did that happen today? [laughs]
Ted Simons: We will get to that later. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciated it.
Both: Thank you.