Today, Governor Rick Scott participated in the 16th "Let's Get to Work Day" at Joker Merchant Stadium and announced that he will work to provide $5 million annually to be used only for spring training facilities. During the workday, the Governor participated in daily operations for the Detroit Tigers Baseball team, including working at the concession stands, managing equipment and working with the grounds crew.
Governor Scott said, "My top priority is growing jobs for Florida families -- and spring training has provided families in Florida with countless job opportunities since the 1800s. It's my job as Governor to make sure Florida remains the number one destination for spring training and that is why we will work to provide $5 million annually to only be used for spring training facilities. We must protect and enhance this vital business for Florida families."
While current law provides some ability for local governments to incentivize spring training baseball, there is no predictability or a regular funding stream for spring training in Florida. That means if teams need renovations to their facilities, they must begin at square-one to secure funding and planning from the state and from local governments. Currently, 15 teams use Florida facilities for spring training, three teams' leases come up for renewal in 2016, and two come up for renewal in 2017.
Under the initiative, local governments will be required to match at least 50 percent of project costs. State contributions for each project would be capped at $20 million and the Department of Economic Opportunity would review and approve the match to ensure it provides a return on investment for taxpayers.
More than 1.5 million fans attend spring training games annually, and provide a $750 million benefit to the state each year. Since the 2000 season, more than 20 million fans have passed through the turnstiles at Florida stadiums.
Governor Scott continued, "We must provide teams a predicable landscape, with an identified funding stream that allows local governments to make targeted investments to keep teams in their communities."
Senator Jack Latvala said, "Spring training pays huge dividends for our communities. The more we support baseball in Florida, the more opportunities will be expanded for our residents. This $5 million, recurring investment by Gov. Scott will support jobs across our state."
Representative Seth McKeel said, "I welcome Governor Scott's announcement in Lakeland, which has the longest standing Spring Training relationship in Major League Baseball. Along with providing jobs and capital investment, Spring Training plays a key role in attracting tourists to the Sunshine State. I look forward to working with the Governor as we craft a budget for Florida."
David Dombrowski, President, CEO and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers said, "Florida has a long-standing tradition with the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball Clubs," Dombrowski said. "The Grapefruit League plays a significant role in the teams' preparation for each season as well as the development of their players. For 77 years the Tigers' organization has enjoyed an outstanding relationship with the City of Lakeland calling Joker Marchant Stadium and the complex their "Winter Home. We are excited and appreciative that the Great State of Florida is doing all it can to continue this partnership for many years to come."
Frank Coonelly, President of the Pittsburgh Pirates said, "The Pittsburgh Pirates this year celebrate our 45th spring in Bradenton, Florida. The bond between the organization and the Bradenton community runs deep and strong. We have been fortunate to have been able to forge meaningful public/private partnerships that have allowed us to build and update outstanding Major League facilities in Bradenton which we use for the year-round development of our Major League and Minor League players and staff. Each of the two major projects that we completed over the last six years was done primarily with local companies and local workers and resulted in other economic development in the community. It is critical as we move forward that resources are available at the state level that will allow Clubs to make the necessary capital improvements in their Florida spring training facilities so that the state can retain its 15 Major League Clubs and attract new Clubs to the Grapefruit League. The Pirates' relationship with Bradenton is an outstanding example of the type of win-win partnership that state resources can help replicate in other Florida communities."
John Webb, President of the Florida Sports Foundation said, "We are pleased that Governor Scott has taken such an active role in preserving spring training Baseball for generations to come. Spring training Baseball is as much a part of Florida as the beautiful beaches and theme parks. There's no better place to be in Florida during the month of March than a spring training baseball game."