The high cost of gasoline - and other services and supplies - is a tough pitch for Senior League World Series organizers to handle, but they say it won’ t be enough to strike them out as Bangor hosts the international tournament for a seventh straight year.
Several Series officials, organizers and volunteers gathered for a Tuesday press conference at Mansfield Stadium to publicize the SLWS opening ceremony schedule for Saturday, Aug. 9 and report on the overall status of the annual baseball event.
“One thing I know is our transportation costs have significantly increased,” said SLWS executive director Mike Brooker. “The first year, we could go down to Portland and pick up a team for $600 and now it’ s about $1,100. We used to be able to rent buses the first year for $33 an hour and now it’ s close to $50.”
Currently, the main focus for Brooker and fellow organizers is travel arrangements, but sponsorship is almost always a prime concern.
“Our major sponsors, who donate $1,000 or more, are pretty much in place. They support us year in and year out,” Brooker explained. “We’ re having more difficulty this year with smaller sponsors who donate $250 or $500. I think it’ s just an economic reality we’ re going to have to live with. Things are tight.”
Anyone wishing to become a sponsor or donate money, materials or services can do so through July 30.
Brooker says it costs $175,000 to hold the Series each year. Nearly half of that can be offset by sales of tickets, souvenirs, and concessions.
“All we want to do is break even,” he said. “In any given year, we’ re going to do about $80,000 at the gate and with souvenirs, so that means we need to do about $60,000 in sponsorships and that’ s always the biggest concern.”
Last year, both attendance and concession sales were down about 25 percent with souvenir sales down 10 percent. Those dips were offset by a significant donation by Bangor native and author Stephen King, who provided the funding necessary to build Mansfield Stadium.
Attendance in 2007 was approximately 26,250 after a record of 35,000 attended games in 2006. The total was 28,000 in 2005 20,000 for a rainy 2004 Series 25,000 in 2003 and 30,000 in 2002.
Whenever possible, any extra revenue is banked in what is literally a rainy day fund.
“I’ m confident we’ re OK for this year, but as prices continue to rise, it’ s a little scary,” Brooker said. “After the first year, we had about a $35,000 balance in reserve and we try to maintain that. We’ ve had to dip into it a couple of years, but we hate to do that.”
Grand slam ($5,000 or more) sponsors include the Maine Tourism Board, the City of Bangor, Bangor International Airport, and TD BankNorth. Home run ($2,500-$5,000) sponsors are R.H. Foster, Bangor Firefighters, Bangor Savings Bank and McDonalds.
Other sponsors include Holiday Inn, which provides lodging Darling’ s Honda, which provides cars for organizers and Leadbetter’ s convenience stores, which will sell Series ticket passes starting today.
It all starts Sunday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. at Mansfield with an exhibition game between Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club against a group of local celebrities in an old-time exhibition game. At 6:45 p.m., all District 3 (local/Greater Bangor) championship softball and baseball teams will be honored. The Bangor Band will perform for the second straight year at 7 p.m. before the parade of teams begins at 8.
Several speakers will welcome teams and fans at 8:15 p.m. and the first pitch will be thrown before an 8:40 p.m. fireworks show. Games will start at noon on Sunday with four games each day through Thursday in a round-robin format. The semifinals are Friday and the championship is Saturday.
Also on hand for Tuesday’ s press conference was Dennis Lewin, chairman of the Little League International Board of Directors.
“The job done here in Bangor for the Senior League World Series is as good as is done at any of our venues around the world,” said Lewin, who worked for ABC Network television as a producer for 30 years and for the NFL as senior vice-president of broadcasting for four years before retiring.
Lewin, who spends his summers in Bucksport each year, has been involved with Little League since 1996.
“It’ s hard to find a venue that is better prepared than Bangor for the Senior League World Series,” Lewin said. “The facilities are incredible. Mansfield is as good a facility as you can find for youngsters, or adults, anywhere in the world. It’ s as good a place as you can go.”
Financial issues aside, Lewin sees a long association between the SLWS and Bangor.
“I think the simple answer is as long as they’ re able to host it, there’ s no question this is the place for it to be,” he said.