Gems continue to struggle for profitability, lose more than $55,000 in two years

Gems outfielder Thomas Richards knocks helmets with another player after scoring a run during a Gems vs. Springfield Sliders game last July. (H-W File Photo)
Posted: Sep. 18, 2013 7:52 pm Updated: Oct. 3, 2013 12:04 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Rob Ebbing, executive director of the Oakley-Lindsay Center and the Quincy Gems, said at the August meeting of the Quincy Civic Center Authority that he hoped the Quincy Gems would break even this season.

It turned out to be wishful thinking.

Ebbing reported at Wednesday's meeting that the summer collegiate team has lost $32,172 this season. The Gems took in $309,254 this summer and spent $341,426, and a few more bills may come in before financial figures are finalized for the team.

The authority received reports Wednesday but could not take action, since there was not a quorum.

The team reported a loss of $23,178 in 2012. However, it made a profit of $23,891 in 2011.

"I was hoping to break even, and I was kind of shocked when I realized with the new numbers that we were going to be $30,000 in the hole," Ebbing said.

He said the team didn't have travel costs for the entire season at the time of the August report. The team spent between $7,000 and $10,000 on travel for away playoff games in Danville and Huntington, W.Va., while it grossed about $6,000 for its two home playoff games.

Ebbing says a hike in ticket prices may be necessary for next season.

"The (Prospect League) did a poll of all the existing teams for ticket prices and box seat prices and things of that nature," he said. "We are at the bottom, so we're going to have to look hard at all aspects of the operation."

Ebbing said he hoped ticket prices wouldn't have to be increased. General admission to a game is $5.

"As our expenses continue to rise, we either have to figure out how to grow the number of people through the gate, or we have to raise the gate," he said.

Ebbing said the team also will have to push for more sponsorships and advertising next season.

The team saw a $5,200 drop in advertising and an $8,400 drop in corporate nights in comparison to 2012. The team also saw a $16,000 drop in revenue from picnics held at QU Stadium.

The reports show the team had $5,625 in profit from its concession stand in its first year of operation. However, the Gems earned about $15,000 in 2012 from a cut from its previous vendor, County Market, which decided to not return this year.

Ebbing said the organization would look at how to best grow concession profits.

"Can we put out the food just as good quality and put it out fast with fewer people?" he said. "We'll just have to study that operation and learn more from it. After running it for a year, we're going to know more going in this coming season than we did this year, because we didn't know anything."

Ebbing said some other factors have affected the team's ability to raise a profit in recent years.

The team pays $8,300 each season to be a member of the 11-team Prospect League. It previously belonged to the Central Illinois Collegiate League, which had no entry fees. The CICL merged with five expansion teams to form the Prospect League in 2009.

When affiliated with the CICL, the Gems received a share of the money the league received from Major League Baseball for baseballs and umpires. This typically covered about $10,000 in costs. However, the Prospect League is not eligible for such funding, since it is a for-profit league.

The team also now budgets $24,000 in administrative costs, which was not included in previous Gems budgets. This was added at the recommendation of the authority's auditing firm.

"There is $30,000, $40,000 that we have to raise today that we didn't when the Gems started," he said.

In other business, the authority heard construction continues on the new parking lot and storage building at the northeast corner for Fourth and Kentucky streets to the east of the Oakley-Linsday Center. Construction is expected to be finished in February, though landscaping won't be completed until the spring.

The $855,482 in upgrades also include electrical upgrades in the exhibition halls. The work is being funded through a state grant.

OLC staff is also researching new lighting in the exhibition halls. Ebbing said switching to LED lighting could reduce electrical demand by up to 60 percent.

"We're looking at being one of the first facilities of our size downstate to look at putting in LED lighting," he said.

Grant opportunities that could cover half the cost are being explored.