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Lee County's spring training study questioned

Mar. 16, 2013


Special page: Spring training, economic data and more

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At the request of The News-Press, Dennis Coates, an economics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County who has published a number of studies examining the economic impact of sports stadiums, reviewed the 2009 spring training report commissioned by the Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau. Its purpose: to determine if the annual economic impact of the Red Sox and Twins justified seeking a third Major League team for City of Palms Park. After surveying more than 1,100 fans, using a questionnaire developed with the aid of FGCU economics professor Gary Jackson, the study concluded visitors attracted by the teams “conservatively” combined for an annual economic impact of $47.4 million.

Coates questioned the days of stay per game, 2.5, the study assigned to Lee’s spring training visitors. He said that fans who stated their primary reason for coming to Fort Myers was for the Red Sox or Twins — representing two-thirds of those interviewed for the study — would be likely to follow the teams when they played outside of Lee County.

“But the methodology assigns all spending outside the City of Palms Park on both days to Lee County, overstating the spending per game watched in Lee County,” Coates wrote.

Dropping the average length of stay to 1.5 days for the Red Sox fans, which Coates suggested is likely more accurate, drops the direct economic impact from $21.2 million to just under $13 million. A similar adjustment for Twins fans results in a total direct impact of $27.8 million, nearly $14 million less than the figures the study attributed to these groups of fans.

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Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, said the reason the VCB requested Jackson’s help was because it wanted the study to have credibility. Mielke said he believes in the study, while admitting Coates’ revised projections could be accurate.

“There’s an argument for every reason you’d support it and an argument for every reason you’d question it,” he said.

Jackson said the study’s length of stay figures were “a big discussion item.” He added that Coates’ assumption could also work in Lee’s favor.

“(Baltimore Orioles) fans could stay in Sarasota then visit us when their team is here,” he said.

Another problem with Lee’s 2009 study according to Coates is that it provides no useful guidance regarding its stated purpose: determining the value to the county of attracting a third spring training team.

“None of the questions in the survey and none of the economic impact analysis addresses the question of what would happen if a third team located to Lee County,” he wrote.

It’s a question Lee County is still seeking to answer.

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