Like it or not, the MLS is coming
Major League Soccer is coming to Portland whether you like it or not. Complain all you want. Picket outside PGE Park, whine to the owner, do whatever makes you feel better. But the MLS is coming in 2011. The Issues I hear most when I hear comnplaints about the MLS can all be backed up by simple fact rather than ignorant speech and knee-jerk reactions to the mainstream perception of soccer.
"It is too much money to be spending on soccer."
The fact people are in such an uproar over the $31 million renovations to be done on PGE Park is baffling to me. When you consider what the money is buying, you will see that it is pennies compared to how much money other franchises have spent on stadiums.
Hell, just look at the entries in Wikipedia for any basketball or NFL venue. The Washington Nationals had the city pour in $611 million for Nationals Park. $850 million gets you Citi Field for the New York Mets, $450 million of which comes from the city. The new Yankee Stadium reportedly cost $1.6 billion, with $220 million of that coming from the city. Qwest Field just to the north of us required $300 million
Getting just ONE stadium built in any other league is going to cost 10-20 times what the Timbers are paying for renovations. Breaking even on that investment should take no more than a decade and the long-term result will be well worth the up-front cost.
"The MLS is not a profitable League."
Let's first admit that yes, during the first five years, the MLS was not a well-structured league business-wise. Initially, there were only 3 owners for the league's 10 teams, and only one stadium that a team actually owned. Teams renting cavernous NFL stadiums were bleeding money. Also, the quality of play was average at best. For every star player on the field, there were ten other no-names playing alongside him. The fans responded in droves as attendance began to dwindle, and by 2001, the league was in dire finances.
It is at this point that if the league was going to pack it in and fold, then they would have done so in 2001. Instead, what happened was that the two largest billionaire backers, Philip Anschutz and Lamar Hunt, decided to push ahead. They could have just ended it there, cut their losses, and decided once again that soccer wasn't going to work in the U.S. But they saw enough potential to rework their business plan and continue what they started.
Now the league has 14 owners for its 16 teams, and TV rights contracts with ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel, HDNet, and Telefutura. In 2004, Adidas signed a 10-year contract to outfit the league worth $150 million.
Add to that the seven soccer-specific stadiums MLS teams have built. In Denver, Salt Lake, LA, Chicago, Dallas, Columbus, and Toronto, these teams now have properly-sized venues that, allow them to control costs by eliminating or reducing rent, and retain more revenue from parking and concessions.
"No one cares about soccer in this town."
This statement could not be further from the truth.
Probably the best indicator for the sport's growing popularity and ability to draw paying customers is to look at the last few seasons of the Timbers, and specifically, the exhibition matches that drew higher profile opponents to Portland. In 2005, the English side Sunderland came to play the Timbers, drawing over 15,000. Since then, a steady stream of exhibitions has followed each year. Coventry City (England), AC Milan and Juventus F.C. (Italy), and Mexican sides Morelia and Tigres all drew large and diverse crowds. Even Saturday's match against Argentina's Boca Juniors drew over 14,000 to PGE Park, and all of these post significant upticks in attendance compared to the regular season matches they feature alongside.
What this shows me is that there is a base of Portland soccer fans that will pay for the product as-is, and there are up to 50-100 percent more of them that will pay for a much improved product. Bringing MLS not only improves the product, but opens the door for more exhibition matches in the future. These matches will draw more fans from more diverse cultures and bring a passion and fanhood you can only get in Europe and during the World Cup.
The cost to bring this league to Portland is incredibly cheap compared to similar projects around the country. The city is well positioned for it, and an opportunity like this is not likely to come back again. The MLS coming to Portland can also be looked at as a stepping stone to future professional sports franchises looking at the northwest for possible expansion or relocation.
There are too many pros to the situation to dislike the MLS coming to Portland.
Contact Colton Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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