When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed an unusual deal in 2007 with the city of Glendale, Ariz., for a gleaming new spring training facility the club expected a windfall.
But as the economy has soured, the team has struck out in an attempt to generate sponsorship revenue for the suburban Phoenix stadium called Camelback Ranch.
"We added elements that would make it more valuable, but it didn't appeal to any sponsors," said Greg Corns, vice president of operations for Camelback LLC, a joint venture between the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox that operates the new facility, which opened this month. "If we sell three next year, that would be great."
Camelback Ranch had unsuccessfully offered nine unique sponsorships that would have given its corporate partners a host of benefits such as a stadium suite, signage and even trips to Los Angeles to see the Dodgers play.
The failure to sell the sponsorships presents a financial risk for the club, which entered into a unique arrangement with Glendale to get the stadium built.
The city spent $110 million of its own money on construction, but ceded full control over sponsorship and ticket revenues to the joint venture. That passed any profits but also any operating losses to the joint venture.
"In Arizona, all the other spring training stadiums are subsidized by the city," said Julie Frizoni, Glendale's marketing director. "By the time bills are paid and revenue is counted, operating and maintenance could cost up to $1 million annually."
The city plans to recoup its investment with added tax revenue from visitors. When the plan was first announced, Glendale cited a 2006 study showing that the stadium could generate up to $19 million a year for the local economy
The joint venture with the White Sox, meanwhile, could become profitable if a strong ticket base is built, events are booked year-round and some sponsorships eventually generate revenue.
Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, relaxing on a recent morning at the complex as the team warmed up for a game later that day, said he remembers the days when spring training existed solely for players to get in shape for the upcoming season.
Those days have passed in an era of multimillion-dollar player contracts and $110 million spring training stadiums.
"Owners paid out a little bit of meal money. If you broke even, you were happy," Torre recalled. "Now, we pay attention to make it more appealing for fans."
Los Angeles will be at the center of the sports world next week as it hosts the World Figure Skating Championships at Staples Center and the finals of the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium.
"We've hosted more of these types of world-class events than any other city by far," said David Simon, president of the Los Angels Sports Council.
AEG, owner of the Staples Center, bid on the figure skating championships after it successfully hosted the 2002 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Staples Center. AEG executives expect this year's event, March 22-29, to have a huge following worldwide because the winners of the competition qualify for spots in the 2010 Olympic Games.
Staples Center hosts approximately 250 events a year, but its major tenants only use 60 percent of those dates. In order to keep the building profitable, one-time sporting events and concerts are needed to generate food, merchandise and parking revenue.
The stadium lost eight days of events booked for the Los Angeles Avengers when Arena Football canceled its 2009 season, which would have started this month.
"You can't just pick up the phone and book events. There are not a lot of acts that can fill a 20,000-seat arena," said Lee Zeidman, general manager of Staples Center.
Meanwhile, Dodger Stadium looks to host the final round of the World Baseball Classic on March 21-23. That event is still in its infancy, but has taken on greater significance after the International Olympic Committee dropped baseball as an Olympic sport last year.
"Baseball is a very mature sport, but it has room to grow internationally," Simon said. "We are uniquely well suited to be a host for the finals of this event because we have such a diverse population."
Easton Sports is swinging for the fences by partnering with youth baseball and softball leagues.
The Van Nuys company announced partnerships with five youth leagues, including the international Little League Baseball.
"One of the jewels is the Little League World Series," said Mike Zlaket, executive vice president and general manager of the company's baseball-softball division.
Other leagues include Babe Ruth League and Dixie Youth Baseball. By partnering with the leagues, Easton will have exclusive rights as an equipment provider, which gives it direct access to millions of members. The company can send e-mails and create direct-mail marketing campaigns that will reach coaches, players and parents.
Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.