Frenchy's Tiki Pavilion

The Economic Impact

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As freezing rain pelted the soggy field at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and threatened to postpone the conclusion of the 2008 World Series, a civil war was peaking almost 1,000 miles to the south.

Baseball fans in Clearwater, Fla., traded in muskets and bayonets for cow bells and rally towels. Families, friends and neighbors were divided and passionately rooting for their enemy's demise.

There was no mistaking the line of demarcation. It was red or blue, traditional or trendy, Phillies or Rays.

Baseball has been an important part of the culture in Clearwater since the Philadelphia Phillies began hosting spring training in the gulf-coast city in 1947. Clearwater also plays host to the Phillies' Single A minor league affiliate, the Threshers. Off the diamond, spring training in Clearwater has a considerable impact on the local economy as fans migrate south from Philadelphia to see the Phillies start the new season.

For 51 years, the Phillies reigned supreme in the Clearwater area, just outside of Tampa. Then, in 1998, Major League Baseball created an expansion team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. From 1998 until 2007, however, the two teams coexisted peacefully.

The Phillies were still the beloved team in Clearwater because of how much they boost the local economy each spring and summer.

"They (Phillies) mean an enormous amount because we see quite an influx from the whole Pennsylvania area when the Phillies are coming," Gerri Raymond, VP of Tourism at the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, said. "Spring training brings so much to our area. We're really excited when they come."

The average fan that comes to Clearwater for Phillies spring training spends an average of 9 nights in the city, John Timberlake, General Manager of the Clearwater Threshers, said.

"It brings in a lot of heads in beds," Raymond said.

Spring training gives a boost to the local economies throughout Florida and Arizona, but in 2009, as the national recession continued, many communities saw a considerable drop in revenue.

Throughout the spring training locations in Arizona, attendance fell by about 20 percent to about 4,500 fans per game in 2009 in comparison to 2008, according to USA Today.

In Clearwater, however, the Phillies were setting all-time franchise attendance records for spring training. The Phillies had a total attendance of 143,500 for their spring training 2009 games at Bright House Field.

Despite the state of the economy, the Phillies won their first World Series in 28 years just four months before spring training 2009 began. The increased attendance, regardless of the economy, is attributed to winning, a recession-proof commodity.

Kevin Schour, General Manager of Lenny's Restaurant in Clearwater, said business at his restaurant increased by three to five percent because of the Phillies World Series championship. The restaurant is filled with Phillies memorabilia, and has a sign reading 'Home of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.'

The Clearwater Chamber of Commerce estimates the economic impact of Phillies spring training from $35 to $40 million each year, according to Raymond. The Phillies organization estimates the impact as $45 to $50 million each year, according to Timberlake.

Lenny's restaurant is one of the many local businesses to thrive as a result of the partnership between the Phillies and Clearwater. Schouer is responsible for catering breakfast for the team during spring training and for the Threshers during the regular season. He also has a similar deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays host spring training in nearby Dunedin, Fla.

"The relationship between the Phillies and Clearwater is fantastic," Timberlake said. "One of the best."

It is this long-standing relationship that has kept the two partners together despite opportunities for the Phillies to leave. Two towns in Florida and two towns in Arizona tried to lure the Phillies from Clearwater in the early 2000s before the Phillies finalized a deal to build a new stadium in Clearwater.

Losing it (the Phillies) would be the end of Clearwater as we know it," Schour said.

Ultimately, Bright House Field was built using $7 million from the state of Florida, $7 million from Pinellas County, $5 million from the City of Clearwater and $11 million from the Phillies organization, according to Timberlake. Bright House Field opened for spring training 2004.

As Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to win the World Series for the Phillies, half of Clearwater erupted in joy and half saw their hopes come to an end. The civil war was over. The red, traditional Phillies won. Less than four months later, the champions returned to the Clearwater battlefields to a hero-like welcome. They are the ones boosting the economy, spending money and helping to save the town from further recession. In the end, it was neither red nor blue that mattered. Green was once again the color of choice for this small gulf-coast community.

Clearwater Chamber of Commerce

The Clearwater Chamber of Commerce has a long-standing relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. The two organizations work closely together to make sure the city can continue to successfully host Phillies spring training.

Gerri Raymond, VP of Tourism at the Chamber of Commerce, spoke (see slideshow below) about the relationship between the two organizations and the importance of having spring training on the local Clearwater economy. The estimated economic impact is about $35 to $40 million each year.