The boys of summer arrived in Mercer County, Sunday.
The Princeton Rays and Bluefield Blue Jays came in throughout the day at Hunnicutt Field in Princeton and Bluefield’s Bowen Field, their homes for the next two-and-a-half months.
As the players and coaches made their way north from Florida and extended spring training, the Mercer County economy will see an annual boost it has encountered for decades. The Appalachian League baseball season brings millions of dollars into the local economy.
“We’ve talked about this many times between us and we usually, combined, are right around that $7 million range,” said Princeton Rays General Manager Jim Holland.
“In terms of economic impact, Appalachian League baseball, when you stop and consider it, all of our players, all of our opponents, all of our coaches, umpires, scouts, learning instructors, tourists, even people that come from surrounding counties that are spending money here, all have one thing in common and that is they are paid by an entity outside of Mercer County. This, of course, is something that goes on from the middle of June until the end of August each year. That’s a lot of outside revenue coming in here.”
Many people may not realize the impact that Mercer County’s two minor league baseball teams have on the area economy, not realizing that sports teams can create such revenues in a relatively short period of time.
“I think it’s a huge economic impact,” said Bluefield Blue Jays General Manager Jeff Gray. “I think it’s also very underrated. Millions upon millions of dollars are brought into the community by both the teams. There are so many incidental costs, whether it’s hotels, restaurants, events, different things in the area, golf courses, so there is just a huge boom when this comes into the area, and not just with us, but with Princeton as well, in Mercer County. It’s a big part (of the economy) and I think people sometimes might not realize how big a part of the area it is.”
Both the Jays and the Rays rely on fan support as part of their operating budgets, but both teams also count on community support and many out-of-town visitors.
“Our sponsorship is huge. We have awesome sponsors here and each year we add new sponsors and also just the game day, what we can do on game day adds a lot to it,” Gray said. “Our sponsors are great and season ticket holders, but our sponsors are awesome here. It’s just a massive combination that helps support us.”
With regard to the Rays’ operating revenues, Holland added, “Everything runs with us somewhat hand in hand. On a game day scenario you’d still like to say your largest generator is tickets. Then year around we derive income from all sorts of advertising and promoting and of course souvenirs are available from us all year around. People can order all over the country since we have the online store. The online store has been a great way to create some additional revenue for us, plus expand the brand of Princeton Rays all over the United States and in several foreign countries.”
Mercer County is the only county in the United States with two professional baseball teams. Holland is in his 23rd year at Princeton while Gray is beginning his third with the Blue Jays. Holland believes that that economic impact of the county’s two teams has grown and will continue to increase.
“In terms of economic impact on the community, I believe it has grown. The reason being, I think throughout the United States there are more and more people attending their first minor league game no matter where they are,” Holland said. “They get hooked on the great entertainment it is. And then, of course, what’s the next curiosity step? To start traveling the country and seeing all these different ballparks as well as exploring all these different communities and seeing what they have to offer.”
Being in a smaller community that has professional baseball, Gray talked about what needs to be done to keep minor league baseball in places like Bluefield and Princeton.
“I think the majority of it is community and corporate support of the team,” Gray pointed out. “If we have a packed house every night and have a good night whether it’s a good promotion, or whether we’re not doing much.
“We try to have a promotion every night, but if it’s a good promotion or just a regular ballgame I think just having a full crowd, being supportive of the team, being positive and just supporting it on a regular basis is the biggest thing that helps economically and keeping baseball thriving in Mercer County.”
Both the Rays and Blue Jays open the season with home games Thursday night.
— Contact Bob Redd at email@example.com
The boys of summer arrived in Mercer County, Sunday.
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