The Peninsula Oilers play the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks on Sunday, June 16, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Peninsula Oilers play the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks on Sunday, June 16, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Oilers launch fundraising drive due to financial troubles

The Peninsula Oilers are mounting a fundraising drive as financial troubles are clouding the Alaska Baseball League team’s 50th anniversary season.

“As we approach our 50th anniversary, we find ourselves confronting a significant financial challenge,” the Oilers executive board writes in a press release. “Despite our best efforts, we are currently facing a dire shortfall in funding that threatens our ability to sustain our operations.”

The Oilers started in 1974. The team won National Baseball Congress World Series titles in 1977, 1993 and 1994, finishing second in 1991, 1999 and 2011.

The Peninsula squad has seen over 115 alumni move to the major leagues and has played every summer except for 2020 during the pandemic.

Bingo and pull-tabs have traditionally been a significant part of the Oilers budget.

Michael Tice has been involved with the team since 2000, and has been president of the board since 2011.

Tice has said it was in 2010 that revenue loss from gaming began to catch up with the organization. The Oilers have not won the ABL or gone to the NBC World Series since 2011.

In 2014, the Oilers could no longer afford a full-time general manger.

In March 2023, Peninsula brought on Derek Foote as a full-time general manager with the hope of revitalizing the organization.

“This is a big chance,” Tice said last summer. “Honestly, it’s a roll of the dice. I mean, I hate to put all of our future planning on a hope.

“We have to do something. And I think going back to more community based is the way to go.”

Tice said in an interview this week that optimism around bingo was one reason the organization felt comfortable hiring a full-time GM.

“It looked like it was picking up a bit, so we thought, ‘Let’s hire a full-time GM to get this turned around,’” Tice said. “It tanked even worse right after we hired him.”

By the end of 2023, the Oilers had gone from five nights of bingo to just three.

“At this point, we’re only at two nights of bingo,” Tice said. “And Thursday is still iffy.

“Friday is the only consistent night.”

Not only are the number of nights down, but the numbers playing bingo each night are down.

“Five years ago, we’d have 50 or 60 in the room,” he said. “Now, we’re lucky if we have 30 people in the room.”

The team still gets money from its pull-tabs room being open six nights a week, and from selling Lotto Alaska tickets. But Tice said bingo used to make up half of the gaming revenue and that’s not close to the case anymore.

On May 3, Foote stepped down from the general manager position.

“He had come to me a couple weeks prior and let us know that he’s willing to step away if that’s what it takes, because he didn’t think the funding was going to be there,” Tice said. “He was having a hard time raising enough funds through sponsorships.”

Tice said he didn’t engage with the idea of Foote stepping down immediately, but a few days later Tice brought the executive board together and they decided to take Foote up on the offer.

In a press release, the Oilers thanked Foote for the time he dedicated to the organization.

“It’s what’s gonna help us get through this season,” Tice said of the money saved by not having to pay Foote.

Now without a general manager trying to raise funds, Tice said the effort falls on volunteers.

The team has a donation drive on oilersbaseball.com. As of Thursday night, $3,131 of a $75,000 goal has been raised.

The organization has also started a club membership program. Club membership also is available on the website and is for adults only. It costs $50 to join and benefits are listed in the website.

“If we can’t afford to hire people, we’ll have a pool of members that can help us out,” Tice said.

Tice said another option for helping out the club is foul ball sponsorship, also available on the website, or hosting a player.

“If people don’t do anything else to help us, they can come watch a game and spend money on concessions and buy some beer,” Tice said.

Larry McCann will be returning for his fifth year with the team, and his fourth as head coach.

The roster won’t rely as heavily on players from the West Coast, with players from areas like Tennessee, West Virginia and Texas.

Mose Hayes, a 2020 graduate of Homer High, returns for his fourth season on the team. Hayes went 7-1 with a 3.58 ERA this season for Faulkner University, an NAIA school in Montgomery, Alabama.

Tice said he’s been encouraged by some new board members who got the organization a booth at the Kenai Peninsula Sport, Rec and Trade Show for the first time in 20 years. Board members also have been increasing the Oilers’ presence on social media.

“We’ve gone through this before,” Tice said. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but something is going to happen to bring us back on our feet.

“I’m trying to be optimistic about it. We’re one of the oldest nonprofits in the area. It’s an enjoyable thing to do in the summer that provides a benefit to the community.”

The Oilers open their season June 9 with a 2 p.m. game at the Mat-Su Miners. The home opener at Coral Seymour Memorial Park is June 18 at 6 p.m. against the Miners.

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