New pitch for Paulson: No new stadium, no summer sports at all
The Trib plays right along with the Paulson stadium propaganda this morning. Reporter Jim Redden points out that the "minor" soccer league in which the Portland Timbers currently play may be phasing out its West Coast presence soon, as several of the teams in this region shift over to the "major" (by U.S. standards) league. If Portland doesn't expand the grandstand at PGE Park and make the place soccer-specific to the tune of $40 million plus, then the Timbers can't move up to the "majors." And if they can't move up, then they might be shut down, because their current "minor" league may fold in the near future.
The rest of the article covers ground that's already been well tread: If you remodel the stadium for soccer, the Portland Beavers baseball team will have nowhere to play. And so they might leave town, and even the Portland area, permanently as well.
But the conclusion the article reaches is new: Hurry up and do the soccer deal now, or you may wind up with no team at all. They may both leave.
There are a couple of problems with this last assertion. One problem is logical and the other journalistic. Let's start with the logic first. There are four possible outcomes here:
1. Both teams stay in Portland.
2. The Timbers leave and the Beavers stay.
3. The Beavers leave and the Timbers stay.
4. Both teams leave.
Let's look at these possibilities and see what it would take for each of them to happen.
Outcome 1, both teams stay, could occur only if one of three alternative scenarios plays out: (a) the Timbers remain "minor league" and the "minor league" remains viable; (b) the "major league" soccer owners agree to a shared stadium with baseball, utilizing movable grandstands for soccer games; or (c) the city blows big bucks on two stadiums. We are told that scenario (b) will never happen, because the soccer overlords in New York have spoken on the matter. Today the sales spiel is that variation (a) isn't a safe bet, either, because "minor league" soccer on the West Coast may be ending soon. That leaves option (c) -- the $80 million or greater option, with two stadium projects -- and that's currently on the rocks because without buying up land, which would push the price tag even higher, the city doesn't have a new place to put either team. Thus, it certainly appears that one of the two teams will be closing up shop in town, and if the Beavers leave to make room for the remodel, it's for good because the stadium will be irrevocably made unsuitable for baseball.
But which team should leave? Let's look at Outcome 2 -- the Timbers leave and the Beavers stay. Nobody in City Hall is talking about this outcome, but in this one the city would not be spending tens of millions of new dollars on another stadium remodel or buying temporary seating. It wouldn't be spending anything. Turner Construction wouldn't get its $22 million or more contract, and the Paulson cronies on Wall Street wouldn't get their tens of millions in interest payments on the new bonds. The only drawback from a taxpayer standpoint is that it would make it harder for the city to pay off the existing mortgage on the stadium, without hitting up property taxes even more heavily than it currently does for this purpose, because there would be only one team, not two.
Note that Outcome 2 could be locked in by the city at any time. Just say no the PGE remodel, and we're done. We keep the Beavers, who have an official total attendance of more than 200,000 so far this summer at PGE, and ditch the Timbers, who have drawn fewer than 85,000 over the same timeframe.
On to Outcome 3 -- the Timbers stay, the Beavers move. This is what the City Council is looking at with the ordinances it considers this afternoon. The revenue currently generated by baseball is lost, and the revenue generated by soccer is increased. That pair of effects may be a wash, or it may be a net loss, from where we stand with the two teams occupying the stadium today; it's dubious that it will be a net gain from today's ticket revenues for both teams. But the city takes on around $40 million of new debt to get there (to remodel PGE), and it ends up with only the Timbers' money, not the Beavers'.
And then the final outcome, No. 4: Both teams leave Portland for good. Is this going to happen? Of course not. Here is where the logical fallacy of Redden's article is apparent. For one thing, if the soccer upgrade deal falls through and the "minor" soccer league folds, there will be no need for the Beavers to go anywhere. They can just play where they do now, with no additional out-of-pocket cost to the city's taxpayers, but a loss of the soccer revenue. In other words, Little Lord Paulson and the city will always have the option of Outcome 2. Both teams will not be forced out of town.
Now, of course, Paulson could decide of his own royal accord that he wants to try his luck with both his teams, or his sole surviving team, outside of Portland. The likelihood of that seems extraordinarily slim, and as far as we can tell, the city could not stop him from doing that in the long run anyway, regardless of the stadium situation. But keep this in mind: If Paulson pulled the teams out of town -- not because he had to but because he wanted to -- there would still be a ready-made minor league baseball stadium here, extensively remodeled less than a decade ago, waiting for another owner. And as we've seen over the last couple of decades, somebody or other is always game to try it, at one level of minor league baseball or another, in the Rose City.
Redden spends a lot of time going over the money aspects of the deal, and he notes that the loss of either team would make it harder to pay off the existing debt on the recent remodel of PGE Park, which still has a balance of $26 million outstanding. If you build two stadiums, you get to keep two streams of revenue (Outcome 1, version (c)), but what needs to be emphasized is that at that point the total debt jumps to more than $100 million. If you get rid of the Timbers and keep the Beavers (Outcome 2), you get one income stream and a debt of $26 million. If you get rid of the Beavers and remodel PGE to keep the Timbers (Outcome 3), you get one income stream and debt of more than $65 million. If Outcome 4 ever happened, you'd have no income stream and a debt of $26 million, but as noted earlier, the chances of that occurring seem negligible, and you could probably get another baseball team in there to pay something.
In short, if it comes down to the Timbers leaving or the Beavers leaving, it would be a much, much cheaper scenario if the Timbers left:
Which brings us to the journalistic problem. For this morning's article, Redden appears to have interviewed a total of two people. The first is Fireman Randy, the city commissioner who's been shilling for Paulson and the construction unions on this deal beyond the point at which, if it were most elected officials, they'd be a little embarrassed. The second is Jeremy Wright, whose credentials on the subject are that he's part of the mob of rude soccer fans known as the Timbers Army.
That's it? Where is the other side of the story? Commissioner Fritz, who's expressed grave concern about the financial side of the deal? Worried Beavers fans? Municipal debt analysts? People who have studied costly sports stadium disasters in other cities? Too much work to call them, apparently.