Local businesses hope to hit a home run with GJ Rockies
Baseball may be America’s favorite pastime, but it’s also good for economic development.
At least, that’s the hope of area businesses this summer as the newly arrived Grand Junction Rockies kicks off its inaugural season here in the Grand Valley.
The economic impact a minor league baseball team can have on a town is hard to measure, but business officials in two Western cities that have had such teams for decades say they can’t imagine life without them.
The Rockies is one team among eight in the Pioneer Baseball League. Two other towns in that league that are of similar size to Grand Junction are Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Great Falls, Mont.
Economic development experts in both cities say that while the impact their teams have had on jobs and the economy haven’t been studied to any great depth, their influence is clear.
“We have taken prospects there who might be here overnight if it coincides with a game night,” said Linda Martin, chief executive officer of Grow Idaho Falls Inc. “It helps because sometimes companies look for quality-of-life venues. We have a symphony and an arts council and a couple of theaters. Having the baseball is another part of that facet.”
Martin said that’s only one of the ancillary benefits to having a team in town, but it was one repeated by Brett Doney, president of the Great Falls Development Authority.
Martin and Doney said the teams their towns have hosted since the 1940s have provided several direct and indirect jobs, but the best economic development drivers from the Great Falls Voyagers and Idaho Falls Chukars has been in the little things.
The teams have been there so long, they often attract visitors from around their regions.
“We’re a regional trade area for a vast area that’s called the Golden Triangle, the Great Falls trade area that includes 13 counties and goes up past the Canadian border,” Doney said. “People come from throughout the region, and if they come to a game, they oftentimes stay the night. The secret to getting people to spend money is to keep them in town longer.”
Neither Doney nor Martin could point to any numbers that show what monetary gains area businesses earn by having a team in town. The issue is rarely the subject of business research.
One study that was published last year in the Journal of Sports Economics, however, showed that the impact minor league teams have on economic development in smaller cities is nominal at best.
That study, “The Economic Impact of Stadiums and Teams: The Case of Minor League Baseball,” was done by a University of San Francisco researcher looking at economic development and employment data from 1985 to 2006. The study focused on 238 cities that hosted minor league teams at several levels, from Triple-A to Rookie leagues.
The study found modest financial impacts to those cities, though it did say that smaller, more isolated towns that host teams in leagues on the lower levels, such as Grand Junction, saw greater economic impacts.
Jim McCurdy, president of the Pioneer League, disagreed with some of that study’s findings.
“We have done studies that show actual economic impacts in the past ... and we found that the impact can vary from community to community,” McCurdy said. “But in any event, these teams will have a multi-million-dollar impact.”
That’s based not just on actual new dollars brought to a city in direct spending, such as salaries to team members or ticket sales, but also in how many times that money changes hands among area businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and sports-related stores, he said.
“We looked at the direct money that comes into town that otherwise would not,” he said. “Then the economists would take those figures and say that money will turn over whatever multiple times. Some say they turn over seven times. That’s new money that’s coming in.”
It’s both those direct and indirect benefits that drove Brian Oliver to push to have the Ale House Brewery and Pub, 2531 N. 12th St., be one of the founding sponsors of the Grand Junction team.
The pub general manager hopes his establishment will become the place to go for fans who want to congregate before and after games, or even when the team is on the road.
He’s dedicated a whole section of the pub to the team, complete with jerseys, special mugs and other team paraphernalia.
“We’re going to have a little Rockies area, and we’re going to have a beer named after the team, too,” Oliver said. “We’re even putting them on the menu.”