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Friday, December 19, 2008

MLS2PDX: snow makes the turf grow

Posted by Mark Evans on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 4:20 PM

On the heels of last week's Task Force meeting and a live blog where/when I tried my hand at actually being a reporter, got winked at by an important man in a nice suit, got called a homer and garnered the Mercury its first attention in the national soccer (blog) media (scroll down, it's there. I'm kind of a big deal), I thought an update about what's going on in the world of the Mighty Portland Timbers Football Club is in order.

Some would say not much has happened, since the city is paralyzed under a light sprinkling of this white stuff, but I am undaunted. Much news and happenings! What is this stuff anyway? it's not beer foam, it's not cocaine... I'm so confused.

Ruminations about the Oregonian Editorial board, arguments you can borrow to use on your nearby NIMBYs, news about Portland's competition for MLS expansion, the quietly growing proxy war between Nike and adidas, and news about the 2009 PTFC lineup, after the jump.

The Press came out in force for the first Task Force meeting, and we had coverage from all corners of local media. There's no reason to post a link-fest of coverage, but the Oregonian editorial board came out in favor of MLS2PDX. A cautious endorsement, but an endorsement. The one thing we need to discuss here is this comment:

For the city, a kind of major league dress rehearsal would be ideal. If the league were willing to accept temporary spectator seating on the east side of PGE Park, and allow the Beavers to continue to play there for a few seasons, the city could test the audience for big-time soccer before it goes any further.
um.... no. Well, yes and no. MLS wants a solid stadium plan in place before they'll grant us a franchise and take Paulson's $40 million. That doesn't mean that the stadium must be ready for the opening kickoff in 2011, but the city must be firmly committed to the stadium plan, whatever it may be, or St. Louis, Miami, Ottawa, Vancouver or Atlanta will get a team before us. FACT.

Moving on, let us run through the counter-arguments I've encountered in the comments here and in the community:
There are better ways to spend city/taxpayer money
Well, we just voted through a $125 million zoo bond to make the animals look less sad, and that pile-of-shit idea is actually going to cost everyone money (it's funded through property taxes), even hardcore vegan activists who would rather bust the elephants out than fund their new digs.

The stadium plan, as suggested by the Paulson crew, is $85 million in city backed bonds that will be re-paid through gate taxes, a tax on player salaries, and other sources directly related to the operation of PGE park and the as yet un-named baseball stadium. The bonds for the stadia, properly managed, won't cost anyone but the people who use the facilities.

Paulson and his Daddy should pay for everything
It may be the worst time in human history to have the last name of Paulson (save those rather humorous years after Fight Club came out), but can we give this guy a break?
robert-paulson.jpg
Merritt is a businessman, he's not a billionaire, and he's trying his best to do right by the city and people of Portland. He has engaged the city and the citizenry in every stage of the MLS2PDX drive, and he's NOT responsible for destroying the US financial system. He's not trying to rob anybody. People can not be hot on the idea of a new ballpark, but why visit the iniquities of the father upon the son? Stop being a prick and imagine the scenario if his last name was something else, like Madoff.... okay, bad example.

When a businessperson builds a stadium privately, they build on the cheapest piece of land they can find, usually in the middle of nowhere. I don't want to go to Cornelius for Timbers games, nor do I want to go to Gresham for AAA baseball. A city won't part with prime real estate unless there's a profit in it for them. PGE Park belongs to the city and they won't sell it. Their tenant wants to improve it, but the city has to pay for it. They get to jack up the rent and set up a system where they insure that the spoils of increased attendance end up in their pocket, but they have to throw down the cash initially. The city would be wise to stay all up in Paulson's business to make sure these teams play in Portland, so the citizens of Portland, sports fans or not, may benefit in the long run. The City has bumps and bruises from the last PGE park renovation and Paul Allen's hissy fits over the Rose Garden. We're wary of stadia. That's a good thing in my book, and the Task Force is full of people who got screwed the first time.

What if Paulson defaults on the Bonds? Then we'll end up paying!
I am not sure what types of fail-safes or back up plans will be built into the stadium plan. They haven't been written yet, as far as I know. It's an understandable concern, as those scant few of us Mercury Readers/Writers who lived in Portland before 2001 remember getting burned by the Portland Family Entertainment group on the last PGE renovation. It's a pessimistic view, but if the city decides to float these bonds, they believe that Paulson will come through. I think it's a pretty small amount of money, all things considered. Paulson is servicing the left over debt from the 2001 renovation, and the Timbers/Beavers are his primary business, unlike previous team owners who were distracted by other ventures.

No one will go to those stupid games
I'll be there, and so will thousands of other people. It will be epic, I promise you. But remember, Paulson's projections for attendance don't assume constant sell-out games, only a modest increase over current USL attendance.

No one really wants an MLS team here
I'm not stupid enough to think that the Timbers Army is enough to bring MLS2PDX. I do know one thing: there's an adidas representative and a Nike representative in this task force. It's in the best interest of Sneakertown America to bring Major League Sports to the area, regardless of what kind. Providence wants to build an orthopedics and sports medicine center into the revamped PGE, and other corporations are sniffing around for opportunities to get in on this action. The plans also call for the stadia to be LEED certified, which gives certain civic leaders and their push to attract new 'green' businesses a chubby. The corporate support is here, the City government support is coming, and the fans, like me, are getting excited. Must you be a hater?

Soccer is stupid.
That's swell! If all goes well, you won't hear another word or pay a cent for an MLS team to come to Portland, or a new AAA baseball park. Oh, and you are totally invited onto the bandwagon when the Timbers are the talk of the town. We promise not to embarrass you in front of your friends when you show up to a game with the tag still on your jersey asking where to get a Timbers Army scarf. Pinkie swear! We love everyone who loves the Timbers, no questions asked.

Proxy Wars
As I've discussed here, the MLS2PDX drive and the expansion of Major League Soccer is the new front in a growing proxy war between the two sneaker giants, adidas and Nike, both based in greater PDX. In the original task force announcement, there was a Nike representative but no one from adidas. When the task force convened, there was an adidas representative at the table. Curious, no?

To bring everyone up to speed: the United Soccer Leagues (where the Timbers currently play) is owned by Umbro, which Nike purchased two years ago. Even before the purchase, the Timbers have worn Nike gear since 2004. adidas and the MLS are four years into a ten year $150 million exclusive apparel contract. Thus, if the Timbers join MLS, their gear will be adidas, not Nike.

Cue up our friend Bruce from the 107 report, grilling MLS commissioner and Paulson on his most recent podcast. One bit peaked my interest more than others:

Bruce: the Miami Bid has backing from FC Barcelona which is a Nike sponsored franchise, one of their flagships. MLS... one of the main sponsors is adidas. Is there a conflict there that possibly a deal breaker?
Garber: Well it's certainly something that we've got to deal with. [...] It's an issue that would need to be resolved before we could bring them in.
I may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but it will be interesting to watch how the two companies hedge their bets around the MLS opportunities in Portland and elsewhere. adidas surely wants an adidas sponsored soccer team in a high profile league in Portland. It'd be a major coup. The question, then, might be how interested Nike is in fighting over home turf.

Speaking of Miami, their bid is certainly getting most of the National Press, some positive, some wary, some negative and some hilarious. Seriously, read the last one. Fire Joe Morgan has created scheme by which all future writers will be hilariously punished.

there's been nary a peep from other potential expansion cities.

Timbers Team News:
Lawrence 'Don't call me Larry' Olum re-signed in late October, extending his contract through the 2011 season. If Larry continues to improve, he may well be a marquee member of the first MLS starting 11. He's a great player, quick and good with his head, but inconsistent.

Justin Thompson, he of the ripped jerseys and slow but solid defense, has returned to the Vancouver Whitecaps after two years of... well, ripped jerseys and slow but solid defense for the Timbers. He briefly contemplated retirement before last season, for opportunities in the medical specimen courier business(?!?!) but returned to the pitch with a belly full of pies and never quite returned to form. I will always remember him for this:

This and the Sunshine goal, man....

I'm not too sour on his departure; we have a hell of a back in Cameron Dunn, who replaced JT in the starting 11 late last season. I think JT will be at best an occasional starter and late sub for the Whitecaps, and he'll be pursuing those opportunities in the civilian world soon enough. Watch the video above once more for old times sake though: it's a beauty.

As I mentioned before, the Timbers are starting a PDL team in the upcoming 2009 season, and they signed former USL1 Minnesota Thunder head coach Amos McGee to coach the PDL team and serve as Assistant coach under Gavin Wilkinson. Beyond playing and coaching for years in the USL, or more accurately because of those years, Amos will be inducted into the USL hall of fame this year. The PDL team is a great move from the PTFC front office because reserve players can get a run-out a few times a week when not earning first team action, and area college players get more experience and exposure without losing their NCAA eligibility.

There's rumblings out of Europe that the Timbers are courting Striker Declan O'Brien, who currently plays for Drogheda United in the Irish League and has scored 71 times for the team since 2002. No official word from the Timbers Front Office, at this point, so we shall see. Life is certainly interesting this far down in the football world.

The best thing about minor league sports? Open Tryouts. Think you can be a Timber? Go ahead and sign up for the tryouts.

Until next time, folks.

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