January 30, 2014

National Baseball Congress World Series eyeing nonprofit status

The key to the financial future of the National Baseball Congress World Series – gaining nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service – probably won’t be formalized until the fall, city officials said this week.

The key to the financial future of the National Baseball Congress World Series – gaining nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service – probably won’t be formalized until the fall, city officials said this week.

But City Manager Robert Layton said attorneys are confident the 80-year-old amateur baseball tournament will attain nonprofit approval from the IRS, leading to fundraising that should solidify the tournament’s financial future in Wichita.

In the meantime, NBC officials said they will offer the tax perks of a nonprofit donation this winter to potential tournament sponsors, NBC operations manager Kevin Jenks said. And when the IRS steps in, the nonprofit tournament could remake its management, potentially shifting to an all-volunteer board.

That’s not all that’s new with the NBC: Council member Jeff Longwell said this week that the city is pursuing a national television deal – possibly with ESPN or Fox Sports – for next summer’s tournament. The televised games likely would come during Championship Week, the second week of the two-week event.

City officials think the NBC Tournament will be more attractive to college players with the promise of national television exposure, so much so that Longwell said the city should consider investing in television production costs to bring a national network to Wichita.

Jenks said this week he’s “as confident as I have been” that the Alaska League will send a representative to the 2014 tournament, as the focus continues on attracting a field full of teams with rich NBC histories. Other bids for the field will be announced later this year. The tournament runs July 25 through Aug. 9 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

The city incorporated the NBC Baseball Foundation on Sept. 11, according to records in the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. The foundation will target Wichita youth baseball programs, Layton said, with all proceeds above management expenses going to those programs.

Nonprofit status opens a wider door for potential tournament sponsors and for sponsors to reap tax benefits for their support.

“For me, it’s still a great tournament that needs to be here with the 501(c)3 (nonprofit status) or not,” said Papa John’s Wichita president Terry Newman, a longtime financial supporter of the NBC World Series.

“Nonprofit, though, does make it a little easier for me to give because I do at least get a tax deduction for it. We look at 501(c)3s as a great way to give and get a little back.”

Newman said the nonprofit designation “is absolutely the right move by the city, a really smart direction to take.”

“There are larger companies in town that can’t give to anything but nonprofits,” he said. “It should open the tournament up to those folks, and that will be huge for it if it turns into that.”

It’s less clear what nonprofit status will mean for the management of the tournament, currently overseen by the Wichita Wingnuts, the city’s independent league professional baseball team.

Layton said this week the city will appoint an all-volunteer board to set the direction for the tournament once the IRS acts. One possible business model would include a staffer – possibly Jenks, whose work last summer has been roundly praised by City Council members – working for the city to implement board directives.

Another would be an amended deal with the Wingnuts, and Layton didn’t rule out a contract with another tournament manager.

Meanwhile, council members are considering significant improvements to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium – up to and including a total reconstruction of the ballpark’s grandstand area – funded either through the city’s capital improvements program or possibly by inclusion in a citywide sales tax vote that could take place as early as this fall.

The organizational changes are the latest moves in a months-long effort by the city to revitalize the tournament. The effort was prompted 18 months ago by an Eagle story about the tournament’s mounting financial problems, including delinquent payments to participating teams.

Delinquent team payments continued to be an issue after the 2013 tournament. Despite promises in early summer that teams would be paid a couple of weeks after the tournament, those checks didn’t go out until late fall, city officials said. Eventually, the tournament winner needs to earn between $25,000 and $30,000 – up from the current $19,000 – as the tournament stabilizes financially, those officials said.

And council members confirmed this week that the city is still sorting through the financials from 2013, trying to get a handle on the performance of last summer’s tournament. The city is anticipating higher expenses from last summer, given the intense two-month marketing blitz after the tournament’s format was changed in June.

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