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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Triple misery: MLB labor troubles threaten third spring

Mesa, Arizona. Each year, Brandon Badgema enjoys the moment he receives an email notification that tickets for the Chicago Cubs spring training games in Arizona are about to go on sale.

The 2022 version appeared a couple of weeks ago. It appeared on his computer screen and he stared at it for a while.

“For the first time, I turned it down,” Bajema said. “It hurts. I love baseball.”

The mood for Major League Baseball fans like Bajema is a bit grim these days as the players’ union and owners continue to wrestle over finances. The owners locked out the players on Dec. 2 and unless an agreement is reached between the two parties soon, the spring training schedule will be in jeopardy. The first games are scheduled for February 26.

There is a glimmer of hope that spring can be saved thanks to gradual progress in talks earlier this week, but time is running out fast. Labor uncertainty means it’s not just MLB players and owners who are financially concerned.

Spring practice games may not count in the official standings, but they certainly count in the wallets of business owners in Arizona and Florida. They are also a welcome destination for fans like Bajema who come for the warm sun and laid-back atmosphere.

Fans don’t just buy baseball tickets when they come to Arizona. They stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, play golf in near-perfect weather, and hang out in the bars and shops of Old Town Scottsdale. Thanks to baseball and spring break for students, March is usually a big time of year for tourism in both Arizona and Florida.

But for the third year in a row, at least some of those revenues are at risk.

“This is a big deal for Arizona on so many levels,” said Cactus League Executive Director Bridget Binsbacher. “We obviously don’t participate in (MLB) discussions, so we’re just focused on what we can control. But after the last three years with all the circumstances we’ve faced, the Cactus League, our stakeholders and partners, and everyone is ready to have a regular season again.

“We’re worried about the consequences.”

It’s never a good time for the sport to shut down, but 2022 will be an especially brutal year for the baseball world, which is still in the midst of the COVID-19-driven slowdown. During the 2020 regular season, fans were not allowed into the parks, and many parks had restricted attendance limits for significant periods of the 2021 season.

Spring training grounds were similarly affected. The sport was closed due to COVID-19 on March 12, 2020, which was just over halfway through that year’s spring schedule, and games were canceled for more than two weeks. The 2021 schedule was played in full, but attendance was limited.

Now that it’s 2022, fans are craving a normal life.

Lisa Goulart, vice president of marketing and sales for Sports Marketing USA, helps organize trips each spring for San Francisco Giants fans to Scottsdale, where the Giants train.

If the games are played, she said, the fans are ready.

“We are seeing huge unmet demand,” Goulart said. “2020 has clearly been a short year and last year was limited, so sales this season have been very, very strong. We were very pleased.”

The numbers are not entirely clear yet, but there is no doubt that COVID-19 has hit the Spring Training industry hard in 2020 and 2021.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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