Economy

Sports Key To Phoenix Suburb's Game Plan

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Fans watch a baseball game at spring training facility, Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. i

Fans watch the Los Angeles Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants play at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. Ted Robbins/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ted Robbins/NPR
Fans watch a baseball game at spring training facility, Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

Fans watch the Los Angeles Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants play at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

Ted Robbins/NPR

The city of Glendale, outside Phoenix, is home to the NFL's Cardinals, the NHL's Coyotes, a number of baseball spring training facilities and various championship games. Will the city's courtship of sports help it weather the recession?

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The city of Glendale, Arizona, has bet its future on big-time sports. Right now, the Phoenix suburb is in the midst of baseball spring training. It's also home to franchises of the NHL and NFL. It's hosted a Super Bowl, as well as college football's Fiesta Bowl and National Championship Game. And next week, Glendale will showcase an NCAA basketball regional.

As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, the city's sporting attitude just might help it weather the recession.

(Soundbite of organ)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BOB WILLIAMS (Public Address Announcer, Los Angeles Dodgers): Number 9, centerfielder Juan Pierre.

(Soundbite of applause)

TED ROBBINS: Welcome to Camelback Ranch, Major League Baseball's newest spring-training facility.

Mr. WILLIAMS: My name's Bob Williams. I'm the public-address announcer, PA announcer, for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

ROBBINS: The Dodgers moved here this spring after 60 years in Florida.

Mr. WILLIAMS: I love it. This is an absolutely fabulous facility.

ROBBINS: The Chicago White Sox moved here from Tucson. Well, since I'm with the announcer, let him introduce…

Mr. WILLIAMS: White Sox Vice President Scott Reifert.

Mr. SCOTT REIFERT (Vice President, Chicago White Sox): This truly is a jewel, in terms of size, in terms of scope, in terms of the amenities that we have here.

ROBBINS: Twelve practice fields, a fish-stocked lake, and a sunken stadium built using earth tones that reflect the surrounding desert.

Look a few miles beyond the ball field. There's Jobing.com Arena, home of the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes, and the huge, silver dome of the University of Phoenix football stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals and last year, the big one.

Unidentified Man #1: From the University of Phoenix in Glendale, Arizona, the New York Football Giants and the New England Patriots - it's Super Bowl XLII.

ROBBINS: Now, every day isn't Super Bowl Sunday. And Glendale - population 250,000 - has its financial problems: thousands of homes in foreclosure, city revenues about 10 percent below projections. But neighbors, like Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, are in worse shape: revenues down 30 to 40 percent.

Glendale City Manager Ed Beasley says income related to sporting events is providing a cushion for hard times.

Mr. ED BEASLEY (City Manager, Glendale, Arizona): People always turn to sports as entertainment, for inspiration, and even sometimes to forget, you know, whether it was in the Great Depression or back in the Roman times.

ROBBINS: Glendale owns the stadiums and leases them to the teams. The city makes its money from sales and property taxes because it insisted team owners develop the land around their facilities into a sports and entertainment district.

Mr. BEASLEY: And if you build the hotels, the restaurants, the commercial that goes around that, you have a constant stream of activity that then keep people within your community versus having them leave. Also, it provides additional jobs for your local residents.

ROBBINS: But is it sustainable? Many cities have lost their bets on sports because of poor attendance and overspending. Teams leave for other cities.

The Phoenix Coyotes, in fact, are up for sale, and other cities want them. Glendale built a hefty penalty for leaving into its contract - $370 million -but Dean Baim says that's limited protection. Baim is a finance professor at Pepperdine University, and an expert in sports financing.

Dr. DEAN BAIM (Professor of Finance, Pepperdine University): You can't get a penalty out of somebody that doesn't have any money in the bank.

ROBBINS: Baim says even the argument that sports are recession-proof is debatable.

Dr. BAIM: In the 1930s, baseball may have been relatively recession-proof because the price is, you know, it's 25 cents to go to a game, or something like that.

ROBBINS: Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $4 today, which probably wouldn't buy you a beer. Corporate sponsorships are also decreasing with the economy. Still, even Baim says if any city is doing it right, it's Glendale. Visitors are coming, and they are spending money.

Dodger fans Ryan Martin and Albert Lou(ph) traveled from California to the new Camelback Ranch.

Unidentified Man #2: I drove 740 miles on Sunday to be here for the first game, be a part of history.

Unidentified Man #3: I could see this being an annual trip going forward.

Unidentified Man#2: Yeah.

ROBBINS: So far, the old sports chestnut seems to be working economically for Glendale, Arizona: If you build it, they will come.

Mr. WILLIAMS: NPR reporter, Teddy Robbins.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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