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Suns baseball helping our economy grow

February 05, 2005|by Tom Rifod

Minor league baseball represents an amenity, that has a significant impact on our quality of life.

The impact is similar to what our accredited Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, or our Maryland Symphony Orchestra, or our parks and other attractions have for our citizens.

Historically, baseball is important to this county. We have the second oldest active minor-league baseball stadium in the country, and Hagerstown had the first minor league team - with a professional baseball team affiliation - in Maryland.

Willie Mays played his first game here. Many well-known baseball players and hall of famers also played here. In 2004, the Suns had attendance 27 percent higher than past years. It was the largest single season attendance mark since 1992.

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During the past 24 years, the Suns have drawn more than 3 million fans to Municipal Stadium.

It's written that in 1804, Lewis and Clark played catch very early during their trek to the Pacific. After they started in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., they passed through this area.

Abner Doubleday was stationed here, encamped at Williamsport, and he and his men played catch and "rounders" and the sport was perhaps contemplated here during the Civil War.

In 1915, our first minor league affiliate opened here. Our current stadium was built in 1930 - 75 years ago.

Since then, so many things in our community have changed drastically, as they must.

But though some sports have changed, the essence of baseball remains the same. It has endured. Baseball is one of the few things that bind us in the county to the last century and more.

I hope baseball stays here.

The economic impact of the Hagerstown Suns is hard to measure. Taking into account an economic multiplier effect, some figures are as low as $3.5 million and as high as $11.5 million or more.

With more than 100,000 fans buying tickets, buying refreshments and more, there's economic impact. With more than 2,000 hotel rooms being booked by visiting teams, there's economic impact.

The Suns have about 100 employees during about half the year.

That's a significant economic impact. Suppliers and venders, media, ancillary amenities ...It all is part of the positive effect that baseball has on our local economy. People come from other communities to see games here. Some people say that they've moved here because we have professional baseball.

Other similar communities have measured the economic impact of their minor league teams and stadiums, and annual figures in excess of $50 million are comfortably quoted.

In Professor Arthur T. Johnson's book "Minor League Baseball and Local Economic Development," there are examples from around the country of teams contributing significantly to local economies.

Dr. Johnson wrote about contributions made to local charities, payroll considerations and other economic impacts. A baseball team is an investment FOR a community, and minor league baseball is an investment worth keeping.

Another point to consider is the public relations impact.

There are good things which make national news about Hagerstown: movies being made here, like Ted Turner's "Gods and Generals"; low crime statistics; top ratings in a Money Magazine article; and other positive news.

However, consistently and creatively, the Hagerstown Suns make positive national news. Whether it is simply news about games or its players, or news about the incredible promotions, the Hagerstown Suns make positive news.

The Suns were noted by Sports Illustrated as being in the Top Ten of all minor-league promotions. That exposure is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in public relations for Hagerstown and Washington County. It's been estimated that without the Hagerstown Suns, we would lose at least $10 million in annual publicity impact.

Having the Suns in hundreds of newspapers, coast-to-coast on the wire services, on hundreds of radio and TV stations, and also in magazines around the country because of Willie Mays coming to town, was worth an estimated $1 million in public relations.

Our marketing budget for the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is about $100,000 total - this includes some sponsorships which include advertising. This does not include all the trade shows, sales efforts, mailings, and the Visitors Guide.

But the point is, the Hagerstown Suns stretch the marketing impact for the overall tourism and economic development efforts and activities for our county.

Tourism is the county's and the state's fourth-largest industry. I believe that tourism is a function of economic development in that it creates and maintains jobs and creates local investment.

Last year, according to the State of Maryland, visitors had an economic impact here of $176.1 million. We'd be far less successful without the Hagerstown Suns helping attract visitors.

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