In just a few short weeks it will have been one year since Major League Baseball called an out on its 2020 spring training season—the catalyst that gave way to Arizona closing down because of the spread of COVID-19.
On March 12, 2020, MLB announced it wouldn’t complete the remaining two weeks of Cactus League games, which take places at 10 stadiums around the Valley. The announcement soon was followed by stay-at-home orders, and the corresponding COVID-19 economic repercussions.
As many Arizonans know, spring training is a beloved spring tradition for locals and visitors.
Scottsdale, which turns a pretty penny every spring thanks to tourism, was financially impacted from the end of San Fransisco Giants baseball and ultimate fallout of COVID-19 last year.
The Giants have called Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, home since the mid-1980s.
Now, a year later, Scottsdale hotels remain 70% empty and spring training attendance is severely limited. The streets of Old Town Scottsdale are not empty, but they’re certainly not full.
However, just because Scottsdale Stadium can’t be the setting for a fun afternoon away from the office, local businesses say spring visitors are showing up.
Other signature events occurring annually in Scottsdale, including the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction, have altered plans to safely accommodate guests.
The popular golf tournament, which took place the first week of February, allowed only a sliver of its usual attendance in.
Scottsdale Stadium will allow only 700-1,000 patrons into it’s 12,000-seat stadium.
The first San Francisco Giants game is Sunday, Feb. 28. Games run through March 29.
“It will look a lot different than it has in the past. No player access; no field access. There will be a lot of scaled-down food and beverage—if at all,” said Scottsdale Charros Executive Director Dennis Robbins.
Members of the Scottsdale Charros celebrated a refurbished Charro Lodge at Scottsdale Stadium in 2020 prior to the pandemic. Dennis Robbins Scottsdale Stadium is in the Old Town Scottsdale area.
Riding the wave
While the cancellation or postponement of the city’s signature events hurt the city’s finances, the spring training ramifications specifically impacts the Scottsdale Charros, a philanthropic group.
Formed in 1961, the Scottsdale Charros are an all-volunteer, nonprofit group of business and civic leaders that helps build the Scottsdale community by supporting youth sports, education and charitable causes.
Every year, the money earned from spring training ticket sales is funneled back into the community through education and charitable partners.
Specifically, the Charros give charitable gifts and scholarships to Scottsdale Unified School District, which covers myriad needs for students and teachers.
Mr. Robbins says last year the Charros rearranged its budget, cut expenses and made it possible to give the same amount of funds to the community as it originally planned.
“We thought last year was difficult, this year will be even more difficult,” Mr. Robbins said of the six canceled spring training games in 2020. “This year, with the reduced capacity and all the things we sell in the stadium—it’s going to be difficult, very difficult.”
The Charros still maintain its commitment to its education and charity partners, Mr. Robbins says.
“We’re hopeful that we can still do the same thing, but we haven’t made that determination yet,” he said.
As part of its fundraising, the Charros sell tickets to a section of stadium seating known as the Charro Lodge. Mr. Robbins said in February the group was working with MLB, the Giants and the city to navigate selling those seats.
“Mask, social distancing, hand washing—we’re right in the thick of that,” Mr. Robbins said the planning involved for the March games.
“Everybody is trying to do their best, work through this, and we’re just riding the wave with everyone else to try and put the best plan together.”
A table for two on the patio?
Unlike years past, the energetic wave of visitors descending upon Scottsdale as their sunny vacation begins isn’t a noticeable shift come spring.
But there is a growing trickle of people coming, two Old Town restaurants say.
Whether coming to their winter home in Scottsdale, embarking on an annual trip to Arizona or seeking out a state “open for business”—Blue Clover Distillery co-founder Weston Holm says business has picked up in recent weeks.
Blue Clover Distillery, 7042 E. Indian School Road, opened about three years ago.
“I think a lot of people, who normally come for spring training—at least this is my prayer and hope—that they come down for the weather, have condos, and stroll through town,” Mr. Holm said.
“I can see some positiveness in that department, just people who own houses here and live here part time.”
Blue Clover is the only distillery in Old Town Scottsdale history, Mr. Holm said.
The service benefited the Scottsdale community in the pandemic’s early days, Mr. Holm said.
“We transitioned to doing a lot of hand sanitizer because we have all of the equipment to do that. We made quite a bit, and supported quite a bit of people,” he said. “We had a two-hour line wait, for almost a month straight, outside of our bar. We got to help the community and the community got to help us at that time.”
The facility includes a restaurant and bar offering a large patio that can seat about half of the establishment’s total capacity.
The distillery was open for just over one year before the pandemic hit. Mr. Holm says it’s been an “exciting tough challenge.”
“Yes, the PPE helped a little bit. What also helped is we love to work—we work hard, we adjust and we kept moving,” Mr. Holm said.
On the east side of Scottsdale Road, Belle’s Nashville Kitchen, 7212 E. Main St., opened its doors at the end of 2020.
Owner Mike Haley says because the restaurant is only allowed 50% capacity, they will be “busy” but not like a normal spring training season.
“With this year, with the Giants stadium, which is where we will get most of our people from—there’s 1,000 people allowed in there. That’s one-twelfth what’s normally allowed in that stadium,” Mr. Haley said. “So, we will be busy—partially because we’re only allowed 50% capacity. But, to compare it to what it would be for a normal year, it will be way down.”
One aspect of COVID-19 dining is the city has allowed some restaurants to set up tables outdoors in available parking lots. Belle’s Nashville Kitchen has a couple of tables out front of its doors, Mr. Haley says, as do some of the neighboring restaurants.
According to Mr. Haley, the city has told the restaurants their makeshift patio dining will be impacted when spring training begins.
“It will be interesting to see if we’re allowed to keep the patios. That’s what we’ve been lobbying for, because we have zero outdoor dining,” Mr. Haley said.
“The city of Scottsdale basically said if there’s spring training, you have to take the patio down, because they need the parking.”
Mr. Haley says the few tables along Main Street won’t prevent the 1,000 Scottsdale Stadium visitors from finding parking.
FINDING A WAY BACK TO NORMAL
Tourism has been down significantly this year compared with February 2020, according to STR, a travel database. Below are the most recent lodging performances of the city’s hospitality industry.
- 35.9%: Scottsdale hotel and resort occupancy rate for Jan. 31-Feb. 6.
- 30.8%: Scottsdale hotel and resort occupancy rate for Jan. 24-30.
- $215.60: Scottsdale hotel and resort average daily rate for Jan. 31-Feb. 6.
- $188.71: Scottsdale hotel and resort average daily rate for Jan. 24-30.
- 22%: Amount the average daily rate is down compared with a year ago.
By Melissa Rosequist
News Editor | Scottsdale & Town of Paradise Valley
firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @mrosequist_
I first started my journalism portfolio at the age of 15 while in high school before going on to study at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Being in the journalism field is the only professional avenue I was ever interested in, and have worked hard covering topics from school boards to hard news while working for the Independent, where I have been awarded for my reporting.