The Grand Connection is AOT’s profile series designed to connect Arizona’s tourism industry through the experiences and insights of those who drive it. We’ll include leaders, but these profiles aren’t limited to only those in the executive office. We’re striving to bring you perspectives from all across our amazingly diverse industry. Everyone has something to share and an experience from which we all can learn.
THE GRAND CONNECTION: BRIDGET BINSBACHER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CACTUS LEAGUE ASSOCIATION
In her nearly four years leading the Cactus League Baseball Association, Executive Director Bridget Binsbacher has dealt with more than her share of curveballs. As the all-time highs for visitor attendance in 2019 gave way to the lows of canceling part of the season in 2020 due to COVID and a lockout-shortened season in 2022, Bridget leaned on her years of built relationships and strong communication skills to deliver for the fans and teams who choose Arizona each spring, regardless of the complications.
Her guiding light through all of it has been to stay focused on the fan experience and continue to deliver for them. After all, generations of baseball fans have fallen in love with Arizona, and they return every spring ready to participate in the greatest ritual in sports…right here in the Grand Canyon State.
In this month’s Grand Connection, Bridget shares her approach to making Cactus League successful, why Arizona is a perfect destination for spring baseball and how important sports are – at all levels – to a growing tourism industry.
How do you describe the Arizona Cactus League experience?
The Cactus League is a baseball fan’s paradise. With 15 Major League Baseball teams training in 10 ballparks across Maricopa County, it’s possible to follow your team at home and on the road. Our ballparks each have unique features and food and beverage offerings, but all offer an intimate setting.
It’s a family-friendly way to spend an afternoon or an evening during the best time of year in Arizona.
What’s your favorite thing about Cactus League?
There are so many things. But if I have to name just one, I would say it’s all the experiences and memories that people take home with them after visiting a Cactus League ballpark – and that’s people who live across town or across the country.
What’s one aspect of your job as Cactus League executive director that might surprise people?
We represent the best interest of the spring training industry in Arizona, which involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Contrary to what many think, we don’t manage the day-to-day operations - the schedule, ticket prices, concessions and things of that nature. Likewise, in the rare case of rain, we don’t decide if a game will be canceled, so I always remind fans to call the ballpark before heading out.
Why is Arizona such a great destination for attracting baseball fans every spring?
It’s great because it gives baseball fans so many options for memorable experiences before and after the game. ASU economic impact studies have shown that 6 of 10 Cactus League fans come from out of state and stay for an average of 4 days. A quarter of those fans say they will visit another part of Arizona during their trip. So you might say baseball brings them here and Arizona keeps them here.
How have you handled challenges you’ve faced in operating Cactus League?
Working with our volunteer Board of Directors, my approach has been collaboration and communication with stakeholders. That’s a big tent: the 8 host municipalities and the tribal community; the teams; the tourism industry; and state government. That approach helped us survive three years of disruption by COVID-19 and the MLB lockout.
I believe the Cactus League is a major point of pride for all Arizonans, and I work to ensure that we are representing the state in the best possible way.
From your perspective, what opportunities should Arizona’s tourism industry pursue during the next 5 years?
The greater Phoenix area has been called a sports mecca, and I think sports should be a major focus of the tourism industry. And by that, I mean spectator sports such as spring training and our amazing mega events, but also participatory sports such as hiking, biking, golf and everything else. We have so many advantages in terms of accessible facilities, a wide range of hotel options and, of course, climate.
Which Arizona tourism experience (that you haven’t had yet) are you looking forward to doing?
Hiking the Grand Canyon. I’ve always been fascinated by the Grand Canyon and feel fortunate to live so close to a national treasure. I’ve always wanted to explore its trails and I’m looking forward to making it happen.