Opinion Columns & Blogs

Gary M. Austerman: The rest of NBC story

I am one of the owners of the Wichita Wingnuts, and I feel compelled to respond to articles in The Eagle on May 14 and May 19 about the National Baseball Congress and the Wingnuts organization. The articles did not tell a complete or accurate story. The rest of the story was left out.

The articles suggested the NBC has been operated in a vacuum and that efforts to market the tournament and sell sponsorships have been ignored. This is simply untrue. In reality, all information about the tournament has been available for review since day one. Also, Wingnuts staff members have worked diligently to market the tournament and seek fans and sponsors.

The articles distorted certain financial facts. For instance, one referred to a common checking account. One checking account was used by the Rich family, the former owners of the Wichita Wranglers and the NBC, for all funds, and the Wingnuts adopted the same approach. There was a business reason for this. Under the arrangement with the city, the Wingnuts are responsible for all expenses of the tournament, including all overhead, staffing, utilities and rent. These are Wingnuts expenses that are difficult to allocate between the year-round Wingnuts operations, the sporadic year-round NBC Tournament operations and those NBC expenses that occur during the tournament. The fact the city has requested separate accounts after five years of operation should not be allowed to suggest the Wingnuts organization has done anything wrong.

Next, the articles suggested the audit uncovered slow payment of bills, some of which are owed to the city. Two years ago, the Wingnuts management contacted the city about the rent. It was wrong to suggest that the rent issue was news. Also, the reference in one article to a line of credit of $147,000 being exhausted in conjunction with the NBC was a distortion. When the prior majority owner, Horn Chen, was bought out, the obligation was assumed as part of the buyout as a personal obligation of the new majority owner. It is not accurate to state the line of credit was exhausted for the tournament. It was simply a business decision by the majority owner and should not be any concern related to the NBC or the city.

The fact is that the arrangement for the Wingnuts to pay rent to manage and operate the NBC and pay all expenses is a bad deal. For example, in 2011 the city contracted with Genesis Health Clubs to operate the ice center. The city pays a management fee of $42,000 a year and expenses to Genesis. Under the Wingnuts’ arrangement for the NBC, the Wingnuts take all the risk to manage a city-owned asset at a city-owned facility.

The water bill is another issue. From 2010 to 2011 the annual water bill went from $22,575 to $54,461, and this was with a new artificial outfield. How can that be? Furthermore, from 2002 to 2010 the water bill ranged from $15,000 to $23,000 a year. The Wingnuts protested the bill and were told not to pay it until the bill was investigated. To date, we have no clear explanation for the increase in charges.

It is true that some bills have taken longer to pay than anyone wants. But in the end the bills have been paid without bouncing any checks, as was cited in the latest story. The rest of the story is that three to four years of recession have contributed to declining revenue from reduced sponsorship, lower attendance, reduced concessions and merchandise sales. During this time, the Wingnuts organization has subsidized the tournament in spite of the fact the Wingnuts do not own it.

Perhaps there will be a positive side effect from the articles. The Wingnuts are committed to working with the city to reinvigorate the NBC and continue to give the Wichita community the highest level of baseball possible.

But to make this work, the Wingnuts and the city need one more partner – the Wichita community. We have many great fans, but we need more fans and sponsors to support the Wingnuts and the NBC.

Although the days of Hap Dumont are a nice memory, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is still here and new memories at the stadium can be made. We can do this with the community as a partner. Play ball.