Ed Smith Stadium gets No. 5 ranking on Sports on Earth’s list of Top 10 Spring Training destinations

Recognition follows soon after team’s announcement about its $81-million economic impact on Sarasota County

The Orioles play the Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium. File photo
The Orioles play the Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium. File photo

On the heels of the Baltimore Orioles’ announcement about the team’s $81-million economic impact on Sarasota County, the baseball club has earned plaudits and a Top 10 ranking for its Spring Training facilities.

David Rovine, vice president for the Orioles in Sarasota, sent an email on Feb. 25 to Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County (VSC), and County Administrator Tom Harmer, pointing out that Ed Smith Stadium was No. 5 on the list of Spring Training destinations reported by Anthony Castrovince on the Sports on Earth website.

In turn, Harmer sent the information to the county commissioners with the introductory note, “Nice comments ….”

“Famous for serving as the setting of Michael Jordan’s memorable spring camp with the White Sox and later a home for the Reds,” Castrovince wrote, “Ed Smith Stadium was nothing more than an austere mass of concrete until the O’s arrived. Though Sarasota itself is as idyllic a spring setting as one can imagine — assuming you’re into the whole beaches/great restaurants/amazing views scene — the ballpark was not worthy of this list until the $31.2 million renovation project that wrapped in 2011.”

He continued, “Now, the upgraded Ed Smith is a stunner, especially relative to what it once was. Expanded to a two-tier facility with more shade and less congestion, it does a decent job replicating the feel of Camden Yards’ lower bowl (sans warehouse, of course). The concourse’s inclusion of the bountiful bird logos employed by the O’s over the years, as well as its offering of regional delicacies such as crabcake sandwiches and crab soup, are a nice touch, too. Really, if you haven’t been here in a long while, Ed Smith -— the stadium, not the person — is virtually unrecognizable from its past presentation.”

The Sports on Earth website features the Top 10 list. Image from the website
The Sports on Earth website features the Top 10 list. Image from the website

The Orioles began their seventh season at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on March 2. The team will play 16 home Spring Training games this year.

McKechnie Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training facility in Bradenton, is No. 9 on the list. JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, where the Red Sox train, is No. 6.

No. 1 is Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, AZ, which is located on Native American land, the list says. The Diamondbacks and Rockies both play there. No. 2 is Bright House Field in Clearwater, Spring Training home of the Phillies.

The Sports on Earth website says it features a team of sportswriters on the NFL, college football, MLB, NBA, college basketball, golf, tennis, hockey and more. The Top 10 list of Spring Training fields may be found here.

$81 million and counting

The Orioles face the Phillies in 2012. File photo
The Orioles face the Phillies in 2012. File photo

About a week earlier, the Orioles released the results of an economic impact analysis by Sarasota County government that concluded the team’s “corporate presence through Spring Training and year-round baseball activities, as well as the club’s promotion of entertainment and tourism, generated approximately $81 million in the Greater Sarasota community in the past year.” A news release noted, “The figure far exceeds the $40- to $50-million estimate reported by the State of Florida in a 2009 analysis of communities that host Major League Baseball Spring Training.”

“In 2009, the Orioles presented an unprecedented, private-public partnership proposal to Sarasota County and the State of Florida that re-envisioned the model for how Major League Baseball clubs would engage with and deliver economic value to their Spring Training homes,” said John Angelos, the Orioles’ executive vice president, in the release. “Through a transformational partnership, we pledged to devote our facilities, industry expertise, and media platforms to driving incremental tourism through a sister-city approach that would generate a significant return on investment in a community that has historically embraced the game of baseball.”

He continued, “At the time, the Orioles and industry analysts estimated that we would deliver approximately $40 million in annual economic impact; yet, we had great confidence that our new partnership would produce substantially more than those estimates and ultimately inspire an entirely new and mutually beneficial Spring Training model.”

The release points out, “Now in the seventh year of a 30-year partnership in Sarasota, the Orioles’ economic results were bolstered by the club’s continuous promotional support of Sarasota tourism, as well as by record attendance at Spring Training games in 2015.” Last year, the team set a franchise record in average attendance per game, the release adds, drawing more than 110,000 fans over 15 home games. Ed Smith Stadium operated at 99-percent capacity throughout Spring Training, with a record-breaking average of 7,484 attendees per game, the release says.

“Since the partnership began in 2010, more than 640,000 fans have enjoyed Orioles Spring Training games at Ed Smith Stadium. Additionally, each year more than 25,000 participants and spectators visit the Orioles facilities year-round for baseball clinics, youth sports leagues, tournaments, and other family-friendly and charitable events,” the release continues.

The Orioles' mascot, Bird, stands under the 'chandelier' in Ed Smith Stadium. File photo
The Orioles’ mascot, Bird, stands under the ‘chandelier’ in Ed Smith Stadium. File photo

The year-round, multi-platform marketing partnership between Visit Sarasota County and the Orioles “allows the team to use powerful multimedia assets to promote Sarasota to Orioles fans in the club’s seven-state Mid-Atlantic region,” the release points out. “The partnership includes 360-degree exposure on the team’s television, radio, and digital platforms, as well as in print publications, advertisements, and at special events.

In 2015, a Visit Sarasota County analysis found that a record number of tourists visiting from the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area “catapulted the Mid-Atlantic region to the top of the charts for Sarasota’s origin-of-visitor cities — a rank held for several years by New York City,” the release says. “In the spring of 2015, nearly 26,000 visitors from the Mid-Atlantic region came to Sarasota County, representing an increase of 128 percent over the same period in 2014, according to the VSC report,” the release continues.

For more information on the Orioles’ year-round activities at Ed Smith Stadium and the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex, visit www.orioles.com/sarasota.