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Gap Closes Between Grapefruit And Cactus Spring Training Leagues

FGCU Athletics/WGCU
JetBlue Park in Fort Myers is the spring training home for the Boston Red Sox.

Florida used to be the premier spot for Major League Baseball’s spring training, but a growing number of professional teams are heading to Arizona instead of the Sunshine State for their preseason workouts.

Arizona’s Cactus Leagueoffers a clear advantage in the proximity of all the baseball stadiums. The ballparks are within an hour of each other.

Conversely, Florida’s 15-team Grapefruit League is spread out from Dunedin to West Palm Beach. Fans would have to drive over four-and-a-half hours to watch a game at every venue.

Despite this disadvantage, Florida holds a trump card over Arizona – the state offers more to do.

“You going to go to the beach in Arizona?” Florida Sports Foundation’s Nick Gandy said with a laugh. “Every ballpark in Florida, you are within an hour’s drive of an Atlantic Ocean beach or a Gulf of Mexico beach.”

Gandy added that visitors can experience a ball game, the beach and one of Florida's theme parks, all within the same day.

Figures show that people are taking advantage of that variety.

When it comes to spring training, online travel community Airbnb reported 23,000 guests made reservations between Feb. 21 and March 27 in Tampa alone. That's a 92 percent increase over the number of reservations in the five weeks before Feb. 21.

Other Florida communities that host baseball saw similar increases.

Airbnb said Tampa hosts earned $906,000 during that time period, but the economic impact reaches further than just the temporary housing industry.

“There’s a trickle-down effect," Ben Breit of Airbnb said. "That’s more money going into the pockets of the merchant community, of small businesses of restaurants that are getting more foot traffic.”

While Florida still maintains an advantage over Arizona - at least financially - its rival is closing the gap.

The Florida Sports Foundation found that spring training had an economic impact of almost $1 billion in 2017. A 2015 study conducted by the Cactus League Baseball Association found that spring training in Arizona accounted for a $809 million economic impact.

Economic impact figures for the 2018 Grapefruit League are expected to be released in May.

Sam Newlon interning as a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.
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