With two Major League Baseball facilities nearly within the same ZIP code, the annual two-month spring training season means big business in Fort Myers and Lee County. Although the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins have packed up and headed north after their annual two-month stay in Southwest Florida, the teams and their fans have once again left behind a significant impact on the local economy.
'There are only a handful of communities that can tout the kind of brand alignment between the county and its beaches, the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins.' Jeff Mielke, Lee County Sports Development
A 2018 study by Davidson Peterson Associates of Portland, Maine, commissioned by the Lee County Sports Development, concluded spring training attendees spent $68.9 million while visiting; $56.7 million of that is spent outside the ballpark. That presents opportunities beyond passive economic benefits for the hospitality industry for businesses such as car rentals, gas stations, entertainment and retail.
The importance of spring training to Lee County is significant in that 41% of spring training attendees visit only during February and March, while 50% say spring training is the primary reason for their visit, according to the study.
“The hospitality industry certainly benefits as the hotels fill up at a higher rate than normal,” says Lee County Sports Development Executive Director Jeff Mielke of the impact of spring training. “The restaurants are full. Anything that touches hospitality thrives during that time of year. Attractions and cultural experiences see an increase as well because people are looking for things to do when not at the ballpark.”
Spring training has played a key role in Lee County’s economy since the Twins moved there in 1991 followed by the Red Sox in 1992. The Twins practice and play at Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Park, which was built in 1991 and underwent extensive renovations in 2014. The Red Sox train at JetBlue Park, also called Fenway South, which was built in 2012. The two facilities, both owned by Lee County, are fewer than six miles apart. Combined, their 2018 spring training economic impact provided:
• 940 jobs;
• $21.6 million in household income;
• $2.5 million in local government revenues; and
• $4.8 million in state government revenues.
“There are only a handful of communities that can tout the kind of brand alignment between the county and its beaches, the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins,” says Mielke. “There are so many things we enjoy based on that annual partnership that go well beyond the dollars of spring training.”
Both teams maintain a local year-round presence with personnel networking within the region, partnering with businesses and working with nonprofits. They also incorporate local products and restaurants inside the stadiums, and outside of spring training maintain working relationships with local eateries. In addition, the Class A-Advanced Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League, a farm team of the Minnesota Twins, plays its home games in Hammond Stadium.
“Baseball has become a year-round presence," says Mielke. "There are minor league activities here, and when one of their players is injured, they come here for their rehab. They have a permanent presence in our community, not just in February and March.”
Outside of spring training, the facilities that host the teams greatly contribute to the county’s amateur sports industry, which more than doubles up on the economic impact the major leaguers bring. Lee County works to maximize its ownership of the CenturyLink Park and JetBlue Park complexes, leasing the stadiums and practice facilities to the teams and using athletic fields that surround both stadiums for amateur tournaments.
In addition to local youth soccer, the fields that surround JetBlue Park host soccer, rugby and lacrosse tournaments. The four-field softball complex at CenturyLink Park hosts girls’ fast-pitch tournaments and Senior Softball-USA Winter National Championships, among others. Softball Canada held its 2019 Junior Women's National Team Selection Camp there in January.
Those events contributed to $72.2 million in direct visitor spending in 2018, a $6.3 million increase over 2017. Amateur sports events in Lee County drew 169,761 visitors occupying 163,546 hotel rooms in 2018, participating in 158 amateur sports events.
“As much as we were thrilled about the economic impact of spring training, when you look at the direct visitor spending of amateur sports, it’s another $72 million for those 158 events,” says Mielke. “That’s right at 170,000 sports visitors in town who are discovering our area, many of them for the first time. That gives us an opportunity to recapture them here as a vacation destination.”