October 25, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Cactus League asks MLB to delay spring training

With the rate of coronavirus infection higher in Arizona than in any other state in the country, the Cactus League has formally asked Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training.

In a letter dated Friday and released Monday, the director of the Cactus League and mayors, city managers and tribal leaders of the nine Arizona communities that host 15 MLB teams asked that the league postpone spring training as the virus ravages the Phoenix area.

“As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point,” the letter reads.

Arizona has the highest per-capita rate of infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are grateful to MLB for its partnership and unified in our commitment to provide a safe, secure environment; to that end, the task force has worked to ensure that ballparks are able to meet COVID-19 protocols such as pod seating, social distancing and contactless transactions,” the letter reads.

“But in view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County — with one of the nation’s highest infection rates — we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here.”

The letter cited University of Washington estimates that daily infections in Arizona would drop from 9,712 on Feb. 15 to 3,072 on March 15.

In California, fans are banned from professional sporting events under current statewide guidance. In Arizona, while public events of more than 50 people are restricted under statewide guidance, local authorities can approve such events upon submission of a health and safety protocol. In Glendale, where the Dodgers hold spring training, the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes are allowed to fill their arena to 25% of capacity.

The unity among Arizona communities also reflects the county-wide economic importance of spring training. As the Times reported earlier this month, the communities built the spring training ballparks at almost no cost to teams, counting on the tourists that comprise more than half the fan base to spend freely at hotels, shops and restaurants.

“It’s really the fans that built the business case for why you would want to spend $200 million on a spring training complex,” Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps told The Times. “Without those fans staying in your hotel rooms and eating in your restaurants and shopping in your stores, spring training quickly becomes one of the worst business decisions you can make.”

Out-of-state Cactus League fans spent an average of $336 per day last year and stayed a median of four days, according to an Arizona State University study. Even in the pandemic-shortened spring, the study estimated that out-of-state visitors spent a total of $168 million during their Cactus League trips.

The letter noted that MLB does not have the unilateral authority to delay spring training. The league had proposed a delay to the players’ union, but the union asked that MLB extend the season in order to play a full schedule or pay players for games that weren’t played. The league declined, in part because its television partners prefer the postseason completed in October, and earlier this month advised teams to prepare for an on-time start to spring training.

Players are scheduled to start reporting to camps in about three weeks.

In a statement, MLB said it would continue to monitor the situation.

“As we have previously said publicly,” the league said, “we will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the Players Association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of Spring Training and the Championship Season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other gameday personnel in a sport that plays every day.”