Baseball labor lockout could mean lower receipts for tourism industry

Major League Baseball is experiencing its first labor lockout in more than 25 years. The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the players’ bargaining unit, expired December 3. 

With the past two Spring Training seasons negatively affected by the Covid-19 virus, Valley businesses were hopeful that the 2022 season would mark a return to normal, but business owners in the Phoenix metro area are concerned about another Spring Training with lower receipts. 

MLB team owners voted for a lockout of the players, which bars them from using MLB facilities to train or even talk with their teams until the deadlock ends. If no agreement is reached, then it could mean a delayed start for the Cactus League season. 

In a Q&A feature posted on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ website, MLB says, “We hope that the lockout will jump-start the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.”

The league also says, “We are still currently planning for Spring Training to start on time and for a full 2022 season without disruption and will spend every day working around the clock to achieve that goal.”

Cactus League and tourism industry representatives are hopeful a deal can be reached.

“This does have a direct impact on our local businesses and our lodging,” Bridget Binsbacher, the executive director of the Cactus League, said.

Kerry Sharif, owner of the Grey Wolf in Old Town Scottsdale, said, “Spring training is very important. It brings lots of people in here. It does make us nervous because we just recovered from COVID last year.”

Kim Sabow, the president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, says her group is monitoring the negotiations closely.

“The Cactus League is certainly a crown jewel of Arizona’s tourism offerings,” she said.  “Our industry is relying upon a spring training season as close to normal as possible. After the most challenging and unprecedented of times throughout the last two years due to the pandemic, our hoteliers and associated businesses are depending on it.”

A 2018 economic impact study found that the Cactus League brought in $644.2 million to Arizona. The pandemic-shortened 2020 season led to the league only generating $363.6 million, approximately a $300 million loss to the state. 

“There’s such depth to this impact when you look at what it means to surrounding businesses that are relying on the influx of tourism and business to their establishment as a result of spring training,” Binsbacher said. 

The League and businesses in the area are still hopeful that the season will continue to go on as planned. Negotiations between the players association and owners must take place soon to meet the Feb. 26 start of the spring season. 

As of right now there are no plans not to continue with the 2022 spring training. 

“We’re not thinking about preparing for it not happening,” Binsbacher said. “It’s hard to know even when we’ll hear what the outcome of the negotiations are, but in the meantime, we’re going to keep moving forward and doing what we’ve done year after year to prepare for opening day.”

Taylor Hersch

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