The Florida High School Athletic Association and Lee County agreed on a three-year extension to keep the Florida high school state baseball championships in Lee County through 2018.
The move was a no-brainer for the county, which started hosting the event 2013 at JetBlue Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, as it generated more than $700,000 in direct visitor spending in 2015.
“We love repeat customers because it tells us we’re doing it the right way,” executive director of Lee County Sports Development Jeff Mielke said.
“We’re thrilled that Lee County has become a host destination for the FHSAA. The FHSAA has told us on many occasions that these last three years have been the best years of baseball championships it’s ever had. There aren’t a lot of areas that do it like we can.”
The 2016 finals are slated for May 11-14 and May 18-21 at JetBlue and will consist of four-team single-elimination competition in nine classifications. The addition of one more class increases the number of teams participating from 32 to 36.
FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers wouldn’t specify where in the county the 2017 and 2018 championships will be held.
This could open the door for the championships to move to Hammond Stadium, the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins and home to Twins Class-A affiliate Fort Myers Miracle, after next year. Mielke said discussions of whether the event will be held at JetBlue or Hammond will be held next year, adding both the Red Sox and Twins have expressed a desire to “do whatever is best for Lee County.”
“Keeping baseball at the forefront in Southwest Florida is something that is beneficial to us,” Mark Weber, the Twins’ manager of Florida business operations, said. “We think Lee County is one of the best places for baseball whether it be spring training or high school baseball. Having the state championships (at Hammond Stadium) or at JetBlue will be great for the county.”
Lee County put together a financial package in 2012 and bid on the rights to host the finals at JetBlue. The terms were the county pay the FHSAA $10,000 each year and let it keep almost all of the gate receipts, which amounts to nearly 5,400 tickets, as well as 80 percent of other revenues.
While it seemed the county was giving up quite a bit the payoff came in the amount of direct visitor spending, which includes rented hotel rooms and spending at restaurants and shopping by out-of-county guests. According to Lee County Sports and Development, visitors attending the FHSAA championships this year totaled 2,276 hotel nights and spent $706,176.
As a part of the extension obtained by The News-Press, the FHSAA will again be paid $10,000 each year of the contract and retain all of the first $54,000 of ticket sales and then half of each ticket after that every year. The FHSAA also gets half of all parking fees up to $7,500 per year.
At the last tournament, 30 teams from outside Lee and Collier counties participated and brought supporters with them. Two Lee County teams – Bishop Verot and Canterbury – made their returns to JetBlue.