The National Baseball Congress World Series, fresh off its most successful tourney in several years, has been incorporated as a nonprofit foundation.
It’s the first step by City Hall, the tournament’s owner, to reshape the financially embattled meet for the long haul while also starting a broader outreach to grow baseball in Wichita.
A volunteer board of directors will operate and oversee the NBC Baseball Foundation and the legendary college baseball tournament, which will celebrate its 80th year at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium next summer.
The city incorporated the foundation on Sept. 11, according to records in the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. It is seeking nonprofit tax status from the Internal Revenue Service and hopes to have that before the late-July start of the 2014 tournament.
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“I’m really excited about the nonprofit approach,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “It’s a good next step in the process of growing the tournament, and one we’ve been talking about in the last several months.”
The nonprofit board’s effect on the on-field tournament operation is less clear. The tournament is now operated by the Wichita Wingnuts, the city’s independent professional baseball team.
“It’s premature to talk about the structure of the organization going forward,” Layton said.
“There will be a nonprofit board of directors setting direction and tone for the tournament. There also will be an operating entity we will contract with to operate the tournament under the guidance of the board. Nothing will be firmed up until the board is in place.”
The organizational changes are the latest moves in a year-long effort by the city to revitalize the tournament. That effort was prompted last fall by an Eagle story about the tournament’s mounting financial problems, including delinquent payments to participating teams.
Delinquent team payments continue to be an issue. Despite promises in early summer – when the tournament was recrafted for 2013 with a new format and a slightly fatter purse – that teams would be paid a couple of weeks after the tournament, those checks still haven’t gone out, Layton confirmed.
“It’s our understanding that some vendors have already been paid – umpires, scorekeepers – but I can’t attest to everyone,” Layton said. “What’s holding up the team payments are the calculations on expenses charged to them that are taken out of their winnings for a net payment.
“Obviously, the Wingnuts also had a run through the playoffs. The team is aware of its commitment to get these people paid and they’re committed to turn it around so more people get paid quicker.”
An ‘excellent start’
NBC operations manager Kevin Jenks echoed Layton’s enthusiasm about the tournament becoming a nonprofit.
“It’s great for us,” Jenks said. “You notice around the country a lot of organizations similar to us: for example, here in town with the Air Capital Classic.
“It’s great news that we’re moving forward, and it opens a lot of doors for us that we weren’t able to get into a year ago.”
Council member Jeff Longwell, a supporter of the tournament, said the incorporation is “another important step down the road of solidifying the tournament’s future.”
“It’s an excellent start,” he said. “A cure-all? No. But an excellent idea.
“We need a good board, obviously with stakeholders, and some good baseball people to boot.”
The foundation will target Wichita youth baseball programs, Layton said, with all proceeds above management expenses going to those programs.
“I’d really like to see a closer tie between the tournament and our youth baseball programs,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot of talk from people about their parents taking them to games growing up.
“I think Kevin (Jenks) did some of this last summer in a fairly short time, and with the approach of a nonprofit, we’ll have more of a chance to grow that.”
Another big perk of nonprofit status is marketing. Layton said he expects a bump in corporate involvement, since all sponsorships and contributions will be tax-deductible under the tournament’s new nonprofit status.
“It could certainly help us in terms of fundraising,” Layton said. “Instead of simply asking for corporate sponsorships, it’s easier to ask companies to donate to a nonprofit because of the tax perks.”
“Times have changed, and we and the city understand that for us to continue – and certainly from a leadership point of view for the ideas we’d like to accomplish in the next three to five years – these things aren’t attainable unless we are nonprofit,” Jenks said.
“We can see more corporations, bring on more partners who get a tax write-off to support something they’ve wanted to be a part of. This also will allow our staff to look at national firms tied to baseball and get their names out.”
Restoring the glory
The changes are drawing positive reviews from some NBC teams, which stand behind any city move to operate the tournament independent of professional baseball.
“I agree with them totally,” said former Shocker standout Phil Stephenson, now the general manager of the Dodge City A’s. “It should have been separated a long time ago. It hasn’t been the same since Larry Davis passed away.”
“If you have good management people, it will work,” said Frank Leo, who runs the Hays Larks. “It’s a change again, and it’s hard to predict how this management thing is going to go.”
Jeff Wells, the general manager of the Derby Twins, said a good baseball-oriented board can complete the revitalization of the tournament.
“It was a good first step last year to capture the spirit and restore the glory of the tournament,” he said.
“To get the excitement going some more and get the tournament back to where it should be, get the people on the board who’ve been around the NBC long enough to remember how it used to be. I think the tournament would take off then.”