National Baseball Congress officials unveil changes to World Series structure

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium during the NBC feature game between the Wichita  Braves and the Wharton, Texas, Royals at sunset. 2002
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium during the NBC feature game between the Wichita Braves and the Wharton, Texas, Royals at sunset. 2002 File photo

City and National Baseball Congress officials formally unveiled an aggressive plan today to put the annual World Series back on its feet, including putting the tournament on television and bringing back some of the NBC’s biggest legends.

City leaders and NBC officials were talking growth Thursday afternoon as they rolled out the tournament changes at Go Wichita — a new format, growing the number of leagues in the tournament, improving the quality of players it attracts, improving the fan experience with promotions such as autograph sessions with NBC Hall of Famers, and eventually, a regional cable sports channel to put the NBC tournament on the air.

“The city of Wichita is committed to the future of the National Baseball Congress World Series,” Mayor Carl Brewer announced at an early afternoon press conference at Go Wichita, one of the new tournament partners.

“It is like no other in the entire world,” Brewer said, pausing between each word for emphasis.

Brewer and tournament director Casey Walkup formally announced the format changes, designed to offer “two climaxes” throughout the 16 days of the extended tournament, which will begin on July 26. The first is a 16-team qualifier, which will send the top two finishers to “Championship Week,” a 16-team double-elimination battle for the title including the champions of NBC affiliated leagues, the two winners from the qualifier and two at-large selections.

The main focus of the new format is reducing team costs to participate — shortening stays in Wichita, limiting the down time between games to 24 hours, offering discount hotel rooms and sponsored team meals, a $5,000 cash prize for the two qualifiers who reach Championship Week.

Getting the Alaska League back in the tournament, and keeping representatives from Kansas’ signature league, the Jayhawk, are two emphases of the new bracket. Walkup said Alaska League officials have expressed interest in the new format, which will include the Jayhawk League’s top three finishers as well.

But it also targets the fans, Walkup and city officials said: Ticket prices have been slashed, buyout nights have been increased and a new promotional schedule will be unveiled in a month.

And once the new format is established, a television deal will be sought that could create a new revenue stream for a successfully repackaged tournament.

City Manager Robert Layton said internal discussions have already begun about reaching out to a cable sports network to take the tournament nationwide, either live or through tape-delayed broadcasts. Layton said the city would be open to those terms, including opening the tournament up free to networks initially to gauge interest.

Thursday’s press conference wraps up a whirlwind two weeks of talks between the city and the NBC, which is operated by the Wichita Wing nuts, after a city-commissioned audit found that the tournament was $280,000 in debt and two years in arrears on lease payments for Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The city bought the tournament in 2007 to keep it in Wichita.

City council members said before the announcement that they stand firmly behind the tournament changes.

“The new format is a no-brainer,” council member James Clendenin said. “We were able to get behind this idea pretty quickly. I don’t see any way that it won’t be good for the tournament.”

“My fingers are crossed,” Vice Mayor Pete Meitner said. “But a change and a shakeup will surely help.”

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