Highflyers grounded again, Bailey looking to sell team
Highflyers General Manger Eric Bailey said over the phone two weeks ago that last season’s rebranding efforts were a success, and he was deep into planning the Highflyers’ full-season return to the court when medical issues to both himself and a family member forced him to put his work on hold. Bailey said at first he tried to work through it, but soon realized the best course of action was to try and sell the team.
“I realized this is probably going to be an ongoing thing,” he said.
Bailey had coach Bruce “Bubba” Jones returning. He also had a roster full of experienced, Division I players ready to play a full season. Sponsors were coming in, and Bailey said he was a couple of negotiations away with the International Basketball League from returning the Highflyers to a permanent spot in the league.
“I think we could have been ready,” Bailey said.
The season opener was April 19, but as the calendar turned to January, things weren’t improving. Bailey said he made the decision that he couldn’t manage the team anymore, and started looking for buyers. He said it’s really unfortunate.
Already there have been a few specific offers to buy the team, but those interested have wanted to move the team from McMinnville, including one person who wanted to move the High Flyers all the way to New Jersey. To date, that has been the major sticking point for Bailey. He isn’t yet willing to hand the team over to someone who will pack up and leave.
“I’m willing to sell the team less than a new franchise fee as long as they keep the team in McMinnville for one more year.
“Then if they don’t think they can make it work, then they can move it elsewhere.”
So far, it has been a tough sell. Bailey compared McMinnville to the smallest markets in the NBA — Memphis and New Orleans — and said it takes even more work to promote a team here.
“This is a great sports town,” he said. “The only thing is, it’s the smallest market in the league. Is this a big enough market to make it viable? I hope it is.”
Bailey has proved, though, that a team can be successful here. He put together investors to buy a franchise in 2008, and founded the Highflyers in 2009. After a short “rebranding” season in 2009, the Highflyers entered the league full-time in 2010. Yamhill Valley made a run to the IBL semifinals.
“We went further than the L.A. Lighting,” Bailey said, “which had six former NBA players on it. That was just a magical run.”
Four Yamhill Valley players — Jason Hartford, Curtis Nash, Nate Bowie and Durrell Nevels — were IBL all-stars. Bailey was named the IBL General Manager of the Year, validating his claims that he could make it work in a small market.
Then a family emergency in the family sidetracked the 2011 IBL season for the Highflyers, and Bailey tried to make a second comeback in 2012 with a five-game rebranding schedule. After the latest turn of events, Bailey said he recognizes that time is running out.
“If you get too far removed from your last game, you lose too much sponsorship and recognition,” he said. “It’s kind of next year or bust.”
Bailey said he’s trying to keep it positive with his goal to give McMinnville one more year of Highflyers. The league starts putting together its schedule in January, and he is actively promoting the fact he is selling.
“I’d be happy to talk with anyone about the possibilities about keeping the team around,” he said.
To entice potential buyers, Bailey said he’s even willing to work for free for the initial season as the general manager to teach the new owner the lay of the land.
“I want to make sure that it still has another chance to go in McMinnville,” he said.
For the time being, Bailey is still upbeat he will find a buyer, though, there will come a day when he might have to face reality and unload the team to someone who won’t want to keep the team in the Yamhill Valley.
“We aren’t in desperate mode, we have six months to figure this out,” he said. “But come December and we don’t have a local owner, we will have to sell to someone who might move the team.”