Monday, August 20, 2007

Portland projections

I think it's been taken as a slight against Portland that I didn't include them in the poll, though I also didn't include San Diego, the proposed second New York team, or other possibilities. Some of the teams I included (please don't blame Luis, I put this latest poll together) I'll admit I did so more as a curiosity than as a practical possibility. I love the idea of a Las Vegas team - how bizarre is that?

Anyway, part of the reason I didn't include Portland is because it's a city that seems to like its USL team, the Portland Timbers. That loyalty may actually work against an MLS option.

No USL team has ever moved up to join MLS. Realistically speaking, why would a successful USL owner want to pony up millions of dollars to join MLS? It's a league that loses money, and he (or she) would have to take on part of the league's debt and in return, get less individual control over how to run their own franchise. If an owner is doing well in USL, the temptation to stay there may be too strong.

To be a part of MLS requires very deep pockets, because even as many teams are becoming profitable, and the potential for more revenue builds, costs are also climbing.

Having a successful USL squad in town may also push away new incoming investors. What usually happens to USL teams when an MLS organization moves in is that the USL squad falls on the proverbial sword, sacrificing itself rather than trying to compete with its upper-level cousin. Upon the announcement of Toronto's MLS team arriving in 2007, the USL team, the Lynx, dropped two levels down to essentially become a quasi-amateur squad - a PDL team.

The Utah Blitzz won the USL second division title in 2004, but disappeared completely once Real Salt Lake came on the scene.

It's likely that part of the reason those USL teams decided to throw in the towel versus MLS was because they believed it wouldn't be much of a contest, competing against the glamour of the top level of soccer in the US and Canada. Thing is, Timbers fans are among the most loyal in USL. I'm not sure many would agree to giving up their beloved squad for some generic Portland S.C., just to join MLS.

Beyond the impression that Seattle would far more readily sacrifice the Sounders for an MLS upgrade (this is what I was told, so please don't think I've formed this opinion of Seattle fans myself), the buzz I caught at the All-Star game was that Qwest Field makes Seattle more of a practical option in the short term. Not sure exactly why PGE isn't considered as viable a location. Maybe it's the whole sharing with baseball, artificial surface thing.

Also, I was specifically told that there are more investors interested in Seattle as an MLS city, so simple deduction raises the odds of a bid being successful.

In the end, though, it's all about the deep pockets. Whoever steps up with the credibility of big-time funding will get the team. In other words, if billionaire Paul Allen decides he wants to join the soccer movement, and he wants the new team in Seattle or in Portland, that's likely where MLS will go.


GS-1 said...

You need to be updated. Billionaire Movie Executive Joe Roth has teamed with Seattle Sounders millionaire owner Adrian Hanauer to form a MLS expansion group for Seattle. That group may very well be at the head of the pack to bring MLS to Seattle in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis and commentrary AC.

At the risk of over-analyzing this expansion debate (Portland vs. Seattle) there are some other things to consider to supplement AC's great analysis.

As AC explained the Timbers Army does have a strong sense of ownership with the club. The fanbase is very urban, noveau-hipsters, ethnic, pseudo-hooligans, sprinkled with loyal holdovers from the NASL days. PGE PARK is smack down in the middle of Portland, complete with light-rail, bars, great nightlife. Any owner that alienates them in any way is in for a world of hurt. Suburban McStadium is not going to work.

The issue is that Portland's city government is not the friendliest when it comes to sports, so a potential owner such as Keston type floating hints for city handouts is not going to work. The Triple A team draws decent but has no where near the loyal following of the Timbers. You would have to relocate the baseball team, no question about it. PSU football would work okay with MLS. Obvisouly the crap turf needs to be replaced with grass.

In Seattle, Qwest could work temporarily but you have to compete attendance wise with the suddenly hot-again Mariners right next door, UW Football, Seahawk Football which overlap. Seatle city government is anti-sports right now having funded 4 major arenas in 25 years. They are in danger of losing the Sonics to Oklahoma! So yes, if Seattle joins MLS it almost is a virtual guarantee it will be a suburban stadium and suburban fanbase and called AC Seattle. Qwest is an awesome venue but it seats like 70,000, and it would be Giants Stadium/Arrowhead all over again.

It all boils down to what MLS wants in its portfolio. Do they want an urban, passionate following bordering on agro with an old historic venue like Fenway Park. Or do they want brand new McStadium in suburbia called AC Milan-Seattle-Bayern...


A.C. said...

gs-1, that info only makes Seattle more likely, but it also opens the door for Paul Allen to respond in kind with his own team in Portland, if he so wishes.

Anonymous said...

Portland is ready rock MLS.

15,900 for a USL regular season match to watch the Timbers vs. Charleston.

Greek Chant:

PGE is full!: