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Dodgers are striking out in Arizona

The Dodgers anticipated a financial windfall by moving their preseason home from Vero Beach to Phoenix, but so far it hasn't worked out that way.

February 13, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — The Dodgers anticipated a financial windfall by moving their preseason home from Vero Beach, Fla. to Arizona, thousands of miles closer to the vast majority of their fans and to a sparkling new training complex expected to attract the attention of deep-pocketed corporate sponsorship.

It hasn't worked out that way.

The Dodgers, who open camp Saturday, had a goal of selling 4,000 season tickets for spring training but will probably sell about half of that, chief operating officer Dennis Mannion said.

And those corporate sponsors?

They're staying away too.

"The economy is a huge, huge factor right now," Mannion said.

The Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, who share the facility, were so excited about their new home's potential as a revenue producer that they ignored the proven spring training model of seeking local advertisers and focused their efforts on finding national sponsors.

The concept -- called "The Starting 9" -- was designed to allow nine major sponsors paying $200,000 annually to secure the naming rights for different parts of the facility.

And to make those packages even more attractive, opportunities for fantasy camps or corporate outings were included.

So far, the sales force is 0 for nine in selling them.

Mannion said he didn't anticipate that all of them would be sold before spring training -- some advertisers, he assumed, would want to see the facility in use before agreeing to that kind of deal. But he didn't expect to be batting .000, either.

"I was hoping we would have four of the nine sold," he said.

The Dodgers and White Sox have secured around $700,000 in lower-level sponsorship deals that cost anywhere from $5,000-$75,000, Mannion said, with another major deal in the works.

As for home spring training games, which start later this month, tickets are priced from $18-$100 per seat, with berm seating from $8-$10 depending on the game.

Recently signed pitcher Randy Wolf said this week that he would like to see the Dodgers lower ticket prices so that fans impacted by the nation's economic problems could still afford to attend games.

Mannion said that the Dodgers, who had about 500 season-ticket holders in Vero Beach last year, aren't looking at cutting prices. But he noted that they have started offering more flexible ticket packages, including one-week and two-game plans.

"Baseball to me is America's game," said Wolf, who took a big pay cut himself when the Houston Astros pulled back a three-year, $28.5-million offer prompting him to later agree to the Dodgers' one-year, $5-million deal.

"Americans are losing jobs. They're not spending money, obviously, because they don't know what their next paycheck will be.

"People want an escape still. They still want to get out of their daily grinds and have something to root for."

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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