A changing reality for the Senior League World Series


The throw is late to Maine District 3 first baseman Nick Cowperthwaite as U.S. Southwest's Gary Maxwell reaches safely during a Senior League World Series semifinal last August at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. (BDN/Terry Farren)

The throw is late to Maine District 3 first baseman Nick Cowperthwaite as U.S. Southwest’s Gary Maxwell reaches safely during a Senior League World Series semifinal last August at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. (BDN/Terry Farren)

After watching the recent blind draw for this year’s Senior League World Series, I was tempted to invite Nick Cowperthwaite and Jesse Colford to join me for the rest of the day at Hollywood Casino.

The two Bangor Senior League baseball players, representing Maine District 3, had been just that good at alternately picking baseballs out of a golden bin to place teams in the two brackets that comprise the modified double-elimination format to be used for the SLWS for the first time this year.

The five traditionally strongest regions that participate in the weeklong event — Latin America and the U.S. West, Southwest, Southeast and East — all were slotted into one bracket while the U.S. Central, Asia-Pacific, Europe-Africa, Canada and host Maine District 3 were placed into the other bracket.

Teams in that first bracket have won 12 of the 13 Senior League World Series championships since the event was moved to Bangor in 2002.

I probably could have asked Maine District 3 officials to write down their dream brackets on a sheet of paper before the blind draw and it’s likely their wish list would have been nearly identical to the official results.

What emerged from the golden bin seems like a reasonable opportunity for the host team to return to the SLWS semifinals for the second straight summer and third time in the last six years.

If that’s not enough, Maine District 3 also was one of two teams (with U.S. Southeast) to draw an opening-day bye this year, meaning it will play at least its first game with more pitchers available than its first opponent, which likely will use its ace in its opener.

Such good fortune for the host team can have ramifications beyond the scoreboard. Host-team success typically translates into increased ticket sales as the tournament continues — as was the case during Bangor’s undefeated run through pool play as the Maine District 3 representative last August as well as during its memorable trip to the Senior League world championship game in 2010.

Under the previous pool-play format, local officials had a measure of control over which teams were in each pool and annually matched the Maine District 3 champions against the Canadian champions not only in the same pool but in the tournament’s first game from 2005 through 2014.

Developing that rivalry made sense given the host team’s geographic proximity to the Canadian border, but it also proved beneficial for the tournament’s health as Maine District 3 won its last six SLWS openers against Canada to start its tournament run each year with a 1-0 record.

That fast start provided positive publicity for the event and momentum and enthusiasm for the home team as it entered subsequent pool-play encounters — and that undoubtedly boosted ticket and concessions sales for those games.

Such local influence over championship events like the SLWS isn’t unprecedented.

Take the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament that will conclude with Sunday’s final between the United States and Japan.

According to a FIFA spokesperson quoted in an article by Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times that was published in Monday’s Bangor Daily News, “Similar to previous draws for Women’s World Cups, teams are … allocated into specific groups for ticketing and promotion reasons.”

That meant in this case that the only country to bid to host the tournament, Canada, was placed in the weaker half of the bracket where it had a better chance to advance and build local momentum — as it did by reaching the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, the United States, Germany, France and Sweden — four of the top five-ranked teams in the world — all were placed in the opposite half of the bracket.

Canada’s early avoidance of those teams and subsequent World Cup success resulted in increased ticket sale and profits. According to the L.A. Times article, the host team twice broke the record for largest crowd to attend a national team match.

That would have been less likely had Canada been slotted to face a world power in one of its early matches.

By the same logic, a similar ticket-buying frenzy will be less likely in support of the host team at the Senior League World Series under the modified double-elimination format, as teams receive a first-day bye just once during a five-year cycle and new brackets will be determined by blind draw annually.

How much the change will affect the home team’s on-field fortunes and their impact on tournament coffers remains to be seen, but it’s not an insignificant question to ponder.

Little League also is adopting a similar format at its other tournaments, including the 11- and 12-year-old baseball division that is the focus of the television contract it holds with ABC/ESPN.

But while that 11-12 juggernaut based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, shouldn’t be affected economically by the change, the lower-profile tournaments such as the SLWS that are more reliant on local revenue may face a less certain financial future — at least after this year.

Maybe that trip to the casino is not a bad idea, after all.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.