Playing host to the high school state championship baseball games at JetBlue Park might generate up to $1.8 million for the Lee County economy.
Although that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $25 million the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins each annually generate, Lee County sports authority Executive Director Jeff Mielke deemed the $54,000 payout to the Florida High School Athletic Association worth it. This marks the first time Lee County has hosted a high school state championship event in any sport since the FHSAA consolidated its baseball tournaments to one site in 1988.
The tournament goes from today and ends with the state championships on May 23.
Lee County reaps better economic benefits from luring other baseball tournaments.
* The Roy Hobbs tournament in February for adults generated an estimated $7.3 million in economic impact and 12,000 hotel room nights.
* The October Perfect Game World Wood Bat amateur tournament generated $3 million of economic impact and filled 6,900 hotel room nights.
* The Gene Cusic Classic college baseball and softball tournaments in the spring generated $2.8 million in economic impact and filled 6,500 hotel room nights.
Luring the FHSAA Finals projected to fill about 4,000 room nights, generating a fraction of the economic impact compared to the other events. But it still presented a good opportunity, Mielke said.
“For us, it’s about the prestige of being able to host a state championship,” Mielke said. “It’s a huge pride thing for our community. It generates so much local excitement.
“Roy Hobbs and Perfect Game, they don’t generate as much local excitement, because it’s not local kids participating in it.”
Bishop Verot and Estero each made the state semifinals, which could provide a boost at the ticket office. They play next week. The county also has the chance to make a minimal amount of money.
Tickets cost $9 for each game. After the first $54,000 in gate revenue gets collected to pay the FHSAA, any additional ticket revenue will be split 50-50 between the FHSAA and the county.
The 16 semifinal and eight state championship games must average more than 250 fans per game, exceeding 6,000 total fans, for the county to profit from gate receipts.
Last year’s games, played in Port St. Lucie, spring training home of the New York Mets, drew a paid attendance of 7,266 fans, according to the FHSAA, an average of 302 fans per game.
Corey Sobers, an FHSAA spokesman, said he expected this year’s attendance to at least match last year’s.
“First of all, the park itself is top-notch,” Sobers said of JetBlue Park, spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, who have a 30-year lease agreement with the complex but cede control of it to Lee County outside of spring training through a mutual agreement. “It’s a fantastic venue. And they put together a package that was strong. We just deemed it to be the best place to have it.”
The Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport at Gulf Coast Town Center serves as the official hotel of the FHSAA Finals. Managing Director Brian Holly said the tournament’s officials, umpires and a handful of teams would be checking in and out of his hotel over these next two weeks.
“It’s great timing here in mid-May, when things start to settle after high season,” Holly said. “This is a nice shot in the arm for everyone locally. This is a big tournament.”
Having the FHSAA tournament in Lee County also benefits the county’s schools.
Parking costs $8, and that revenue will be divided 50-50 between the FHSAA and the Lee County School District, which volunteers to help park the cars.
Food service company Aramark will give 20 percent of the concession revenue to be split among the Lee County School District high school athletic departments.
In return, Cypress Lake athletic director Josh Corr has organized about 60 volunteer shifts per day. The volunteers will come from the 13 Lee County high schools and other local groups.
“We have Rotary organizations and youth groups and people who are interested in youth sports and high school sports (who) have really shown their support,” Corr said. “That’s where we got the bulk of our volunteers from.”
Mielke said he had no problem with the presence of Bishop Verot and Estero, which would take away from some of the potential hotel room and bed tax revenue. The boost in hometown fans at the turnstiles would balance that. Bishop Verot’s first game is Monday at 4 p.m. against Pensacola Catholic and Estero plays May 22 at 4 p.m. against St. John’s Creekside.
“It’s great for the attendance at the ballpark,” Mielke said of having two local teams. “It’s going to generate the buzz in the community. We’re thrilled that we had two teams that made it. I’m just proud that there are two teams in our community that made it. It’s cool.”