Wichita officials are completing an audit of the city-owned National Baseball Congress’ books this month, and they say the tournament’s future should come into clearer focus early next year.
City Manager Robert Layton said this week that the city’s auditor will meet with tournament operator Josh Robertson, who runs the Wichita Wingnuts, to finalize the audit report. Once that’s done, Layton said, he’ll be ready to dig into the operation of the tournament, which has lost momentum in recent years as popular teams have filtered out.
“I should know more after the first of the year,” Layton said.
City officials opened the audit last month amid concerns that the tournament has been habitually delinquent paying its participant teams and vendors.
Council members told The Eagle in November they are committed to keeping and growing the tournament in Wichita. But they’re concerned about the tournament’s future, with popular and familiar teams from Alaska, Iowa and other states staying home as travel costs have grown well beyond the tournament’s small prize purse. The tournament’s $60,000 purse hasn’t changed for a decade, Robertson said last month, and the $18,000 first prize doesn’t cover expenses for any team that spends all or most of the two-week tournament in Wichita.
Meanwhile, other major national summer college leagues aren’t taking part in the tournament, essentially reducing the field to a regional affair with declining interest, city officials said. Almost half the 2012 field was made up of Kansas teams.
So it’s time for the city to get involved, said one of the tournament’s most illustrious graduates.
“Good,” said Daryl Spencer, 84, of Wichita . Spencer played 11 years in the major leagues with four teams, and another eight years in Japan, after getting his start in the NBC tourney with the Boeing Bombers in the late 1940s. Spencer held the major league record for single season home runs by a middle infielder, 20, for four decades.
“A lot of people like me take the tournament for granted,” Spencer said. “You just expect it every year ... It used to be a really prestigious thing for a team to win so I hope they can figure out some things to get it going again.”
One concern at City Hall is the lack of tournament marketing, city officials said. Remaking the tournament in the business model of its founder, Raymond “Hap” Dumont, remains on the table, city officials said last month. That includes a big emphasis on corporate sponsorships, inviting teams from higher-level leagues like Cape Cod, Northwoods and Texas Collegiate; special appearances by Hall of Famers; NBC old-timers games; a return to the tournament’s original composition of ex-pros and college players mixed together on teams; and a return to the tournament’s unbracketed invitational roots to guarantee that traditionally big-draw NBC teams pack the stands each August.
The tournament no longer utilizes the marketing services of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, its president Bob Hanson said this week.
“The only thing we do any more is from the standpoint of a buyout night, and a small sponsorship of the sportsmanship award,” Hanson said. “We’re in contact. I go to a lot of the games. People have suggested to me we get more involved, but nothing has ever transpired.”
One of the big issues confronting the tournament is the cost for many teams of a two-week stay in Wichita. Hanson said his organization once worked closely with the NBC to mitigate some of those costs.
“For many years, we were involved in the hotelier aspect of the tournament,” Hanson said. “Getting them involved, though, has been less and less in the last five years. It hasn’t been of much value because the number of teams that come are down, and the ones who do come cut their own deal with the hotels.”
The sports commission once partnered with the NBC on team hotel deals, brokering a commission for their work that once yielded about $10,000 to $12,000 a year, Hanson said.
He said his organization is ready to go back to work if Layton and the City Council want it to help with NBC marketing.
“I think they should be concerned,” he said. “The tournament has great historical and economic value to the community, and if they can figure out ways to enhance the tournament and make it better, they should.”