INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The figures are in and the first high school and college spring training baseball tournaments generated over 4,300 room nights which translates into at least $3 million spread between Dodgertown, local hotels, shops and restaurants and other businesses.
Tom Colucci, executive director of the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, which tracked teams as they came into town, said the amount is likely beyond $3 million, but his group was only able follow teams using special hotel codes. The commission was unable to track parents and family who stayed in town but booked reservations on their own. One local hotelier pleasantly surprised by the six-week influx of baseball teams getting ready for their spring season was Monica Smiley, director of sales for Costa d’Este and also the chairman of the board of tourism for Indian River County. Her upscale hotel drew some parents preferring nicer digs near the beach to the tradition of staying on the Dodgertown property or some of the other area hotels.
“As the chairman of the tourism board I understand that sports is one of our niche markets to drive occupancy, but I didn’t think it would be right for my property,” she said. “But I do know we had some parents stay with us and they have already told us they are going to be back and will be staying with us again.”
By most every measure the college and high school tournaments were a success and plans are to keep the teams that enjoyed their stays this year and attract even more next year.
“It went really well,” said Jennifer Bates, the director of sales for the Holiday Inn on Ocean Drive. “I checked with all the coaches when they were leaving and they all were very complimentary and were interested in coming back again.”
While beachside hotels and restaurants did see some jump in sales the bulk of the rooms — about half — were booked at the Dodgertown facility with Spring Hill Suites and Best Western garnering much of the overflow.
Treasure Coast Sports’ Colucci says he can only see the tournament getting bigger and generating more cash for the county.
“As the word gets out and other teams start to hear about the facility, I think you are going to see more and more teams want to come,” he said.
And Dodgertown — known for marketing purposes now as the Vero Beach Sports Village — still has drawing power.
“One of the things going for it for the college and high school teams is that they can play in Florida at a major league facility during spring training,” said Rich Nalbandian, assistant director of the Treasure Coast Sports Commission. “Think about it, their spring training coincides with the major league baseball and none of those facilities are available, but Dodgertown is open for business.”
Dave Barnard, President of RussMatt Baseball, which booked the bulk of the teams coming through town, said with the addition of lights on two more Dodgertown fields — an upgrade which should be in the works — he thinks he can improve from the 60 teams this year to 100 next year.
Depending on the teams he is able to attract that could mean another $2 million in local coffers. The Treasure Coast Sports Commission uses a formula supplied by the Florida tourism board that figures each adult spends in total (food, gas, lodging, presents, etc.) $143 per room night at these types of tournaments and the youth $73.
Barnard admits he didn’t know what to expect with how Dodgertown and Indian River County would fit with his spring training teams, but by all accounts it was, pardon the pun, hand in glove.
“I think all the feedback regarding the facility and how they were treated was very positive,” he said. “We had no complaints and had unsolicited favorable comments. Relative to the marketplace, Dodgertown is as good a facility and probably better than anything out there.
“When the word gets around, coupled with our marketing efforts, that should allow to get us to 100 teams.”
Barnard said he has fielded some calls from Division I colleges — mainly some Ivy League, Patriot League and Big Ten schools — expressing an interest in Dodgertown. None of those schools played here this year, but now that coaches have had a chance to talk among themselves they are considering coming to Vero Beach.
Barnard said he plans to market Dodgertown to some of the more affluent colleges by touting the first-class facilities and amenities.
“The price point at Dodgertown for colleges is a little higher than other places we offer,” he said. “But Vero Beach is a little more upscale relative to some of our other options and so is Dodgertown.”
He also sees an opportunity to make inroads in the high school market as well. Disney, which bundles admission to its theme parks along with its tournament and room fees, is a more high-priced option for prep teams headed for Florida.
“Disney is the big player for high schools,” he said. “What we will try to sell is that Dodgertown is as good or better than Disney and that it is on the beach – that is something none of the other venues can offer. You can still take a day and go to the theme parks, but you will save a lot of money on daily basis because Disney has a much higher fee structure.”