In many ways, the Senior League World Series and the American Folk Festival couldn’t be more different, but in so many more, they are strikingly similar.
Both are signature summer events for Bangor, both generate incalculable publicity and awareness for Bangor and the surrounding areas, both have a significant positive economic impact on this region, and both offer unique vehicles for local residents to experience cultures they might not ever otherwise be exposed to.
They also both began seven years ago, but — if Series officials can‘t secure more financial support from local businesses and corporate sponsorship — they will not both be seeing their ninth year in the Queen City.
Mike Brooker, tournament director since the inception of the SLWS baseball event in 2001, has already served notice that this could be the last year of the Series in Bangor if they continue operating in the red. Last month, the gap between running the World Series at a loss and breaking even was at $30,000, but that figure has shrunk to $15,000 thanks to some new sponsors signing on.
Contrary to popular thought, the Folk Festival hasn’t quite reached the profitable or even break-even point yet either.
“We have a line of credit that allows us to keep doing this,” said Festival executive director Heather McCarthy. “Long term, it’s not the formula for success and we’re constantly looking at ways to go from being in the red to the black.”
So why is the Series down a run with two outs in the ninth and the Festival tied or ahead?
The answer likely lies with the organizations behind both events. The Festival is a non-profit organization administered by a permanent, 18-member board made up entirely of volunteers that meet monthly year-round overseeing a paid, full-time staff comprised of an executive director, assistant executive director, and develop-ment director.
The Series utilizes an entirely volunteer, loosely-organized committee that meets less frequently.
“We probably have 10 or 12 people who are on, what I call, the World Series committee that each handle certain areas of expertise or responsibility. Our main concern right now is finding someone to take on the job of fundraising,” said Brooker. “We basically need a heavy hitter.”
By that, Brooker is referring to an individual who is either plugged in financially, name recognition-wise, or leadership-wise who can effectively network and line up local business leaders for financial support.
They also need a more formal committee structure involving not only local people but also business leaders in the Greater Bangor area and beyond.
Maria Baeza, Festival committee chair and longtime volunteer organizer, said the secret to a successful volunteer organization is fairly simple.
“The first thing is find people in the community that love the tournament… Just LOVE it,” Baeza said. “You have to start with people who have an emotional investment, create a board, get them on it, and operate that board year round.”
McCarthy boiled it down even more: “Get out there and toot your own horn. Make sure people know it’s here, why it’s here and what it’s doing.”
Case in point: Last year, most of the players on the Europe-Middle East-Africa (EMEA) championship team from Lithuania bought new cleats at the Bangor Mall at $25 a pair. One player bought a new laptop computer. That’s just one example of a direct SLWS benefit to Bangor, yet as of this date, the Bangor Mall isn’t among SLWS sponsors or contributors.
Time to step up to the plate…