Before the rain arrived, this weekend (Feb 28-March 2) looked like Phoenix was going to win a trifecta in the sports arena. NASCAR was back for four days at Phoenix International Raceway’s (PIR) 50th anniversary, from Thursday through Sunday. The Phoenix Suns, who have been a pleasant surprise this season, are in town with games against New Orleans and the Atlanta Hawks. Finally, it is the first weekend of spring training. March is one of the most profitable months for businesses in Phoenix.
PIR and Phoenix are fortunate to have two race weekends a year. The City of Avondale is spending $7 million to connect utilities to the track, while PIR is spending $100 million in upgrades. These investments aim to maintain or increase the almost $500 million positive economic impact PIR provides for the State, and the jobs, taxes, revenue, growth and prestige for the City.
In order to accomplish all of this, PIR and Avondale will have to replace the aging, traditional fan base. Updates will include an infield fan zone and other fan-based service upgrades. Thursday and Friday nights, Avondale demonstrated another priority: to attract a younger, more diverse audience. Receptions (e.g., Avondale’s VIP reception on Thursday, Linking Sports & Communities’ 2014 Kick-off reception on Friday) celebrated the second NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series race, which was won by Daniel Suarez.
The Cactus League spring training is another mainstay of the Phoenix economy, contributing over $630 million annually. Fifteen teams attract visitors from all over the country each March. The new Cubs Park will help assure continued fan mania in Mesa. While the past two years have been weak; but the improved play of the Phoenix Suns has boosted attendance the past month and should continue with a drive towards a possible playoff spot.
All teams and many fans (including the organizers of the upcoming 2015 Super Bowl) sighed with relief, when, on February 26, the Governor vetoed SB 1062, which had huge potential to threaten tourism and Arizona’s attractiveness for national sporting events. The rain may have more of a dampening on spirits and actual attendance than on dollars, as many of the fans of spring training and NASCAR are already in town, and usually purchase their tickets in advance.
Despite the clouds, this weekend demonstrated that the future of sports and its economic benefits for Phoenix are bright.