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Study calls Blue Jays move costly for Dunedin

The city's economy would suffer by $3.7-million to $5.8-million a year if the Toronto Blue Jays leave Dunedin, according to a yearlong study by Schiller International University.

The Greater Dunedin Chamber of Commerce asked Schiller to do the economic study in March 1997 after the Blue Jays announced that the team intended to find a new spring training home.

The study, released Thursday, was done by 32 students under faculty supervision. They interviewed 540 people to compile their data, including fans, businesses, players and Blue Jays employees.

Of the 32 students, only 10 had ever attended a baseball game, said student Sean Sam-Chee, who is from Trinidad. "We didn't start with the answers, and we didn't bring much bias into it."

The university produced the study for free.

The students found that the average fan attends four spring training games a year and brings two friends or family members with them. The non-resident fan also spends about $92 a day away from the stadium on food, lodging and other expenses.

The Blue Jays organization's expenses include about $500,000 for year-round employees in Dunedin and $780,000 for operations and supplies bought in the area. Players and out-of-town employees, media representatives and management spend more than $654,000 in town each year personally, the study said.

The city would lose about $112,000 in ticket revenue, and charities, which earn money working in the concession stands during spring training, would lose about $10,000.

The money spent by Blue Jays fans in town for spring training _ people who likely wouldn't return if the Blue Jays aren't in Dunedin _ amounts to at least $1.4-million, the study said.

Fans who come without a strong loyalty to the Blue Jays spend another $2.3-million each year, the study said.

City manager John Lawrence said he thought that the students did a professional job with the study and that the findings were "in the ballpark" of what the city always had estimated as the team's effect.

"This just underscores the need for us to work closely with the Blue Jays to get them to stay here," Lawrence said.

Chamber president Bob Bellavance called the study "an eye-opener."

The economic impact was higher than he expected, Bellavance said. His group also plans to use the study to help target its marketing. For example, the study found that most Canadian visitors are from Ontario and that many of the U.S. visitors are from New York and Pennsylvania.

The Blue Jays told Dunedin in February 1997 that the team would leave the only spring training home it has ever had. The contract with Dunedin runs into the 2000 spring training season, but the Blue Jays said in 1997 that the team hoped to move before the 1998 season.

That didn't happen.

The Cincinnati Reds got the site in Sarasota that Toronto had wanted, and the Blue Jays seem ready to stay in Dunedin through the end of the contract.

Recently, city officials said, the team has indicated that it might be willing to talk about staying longer.