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Monday, July 30, 2012

Honeymoon's over for Timbers

The first sign of financial distress has appeared: Tickets to Portland's "major league" soccer team are no longer "hot." Little Lord Paulson got his seat money for the year, but the future is not so certain now that it's been established that the team stinks.

Comments (39)

Sure didn't take long, did it?

A season and a half.

Leonard sure timed it right for his exit.

Maybe you should wait until at least the games stop selling out before you start your gleeful chortling?

And didn't you burn through any credibility on this issue a long, long time ago?

Let's see, what have I consistently said from the beginning?

1. Soccer is popular in Portland.

2. A team will always do well here, so long as there is a league for them to play in.

3. The "major" American league is shaky and may not survive.

4. Merritt Paulson is very rich and shouldn't get taxpayer subsidies.

I repeat those statements here just for you, Gene, in case you were drunk and singing a sea chanty the last 10 times I posted them.

Let me add a new one: The next thing that will happen is that Paulson will be back to the City Council next year, looking to sweeten his deal because his ticket sales are off.

He'll also say the stadium needs more work.

They may have a longer honeymoon period than the Pet Rock, but will never be as cool.

And both of them score about as many goals...

Jack, I'm a big soccer/Timbers fan, but #4 is a point that a lot of us, fans and non-fans alike, agree with. In a city with crumbling infrastructure, unpaved streets, struggling schools, and massive debts, pro sports subsidies should be off the table.

Went to my first Timbers game Saturday when I was given a ticket to a suite. The stadium was very nearly full. The goal end seating was full with the hard core supporters who chanted, drummed, and stomped through out the entire game. And, they charge $8.75 for a cup of beer and the line for beer was never ending. Fortunately I only bought one before our hosts ordered bottled beer and food.

This looks like success to me.

The Timbers may be losing and beer may be expensive. It does not seem to matter to the vast majority of fans ... yet.

That Merritt Paulson, the President and CEO of the team is slightly rich really isn't the point.

The guy who actually owns most of the equity in the corporation operating the Timbers, Henry M. Paulson, is part of the one tenth of the top 1%, and doesn't merit (pun deliberate) any Portland taxpayer subsidy what so ever.

Yeah, I'd also tone down the talk of "Merritt won't stand for this" and "Merritt didn't invest this money to have these results."

There's so reason that Merritt should know what he's doing. He was given a toy by his rich daddy and that doesn't buy him any soccer knowledge. Why the respect? Oooo, "Merritt's not going to be happy about this." So what?

It's like giving a hospital to a rich kid playing doctor, and then being surprised when all the patients start dying.

How about the fact that his MLS Franchise business partner (and Dad) is a former U.S. Treasury Secretary worth $800 Million?

Is that more than "slightly rich"? Why would we subsidize a Soccer Stadium and not a brand new jail built in 2006 but never opened?

Whoa, bad news, double whammy. A team that stinks in a game that stinks, doesn't bode well. Time for more taxpayer money to bail it out and either of the boobs running for mayor are just the right guys to agree to do it. Dig deeper in your wallets Portlanders.

> 1. Soccer is popular in Portland.

Okay, we agree on something!

> 2. A team will always do well here, so long as there is a league for them to play in.

According to your blog, MLS to Portland was a "dumb plan" and "the business model for a Portland team simply isn't going to pan out."

> 3. The "major" American league is shaky and may not survive.

In the time you've predicted that the MLS (and Portland Timbers) will go bankrupt the league has signed ESPN and Root Sports TV deals, has eclipsed the NHL for eyeballs, and Portland Timbers are cash flow positive on a year-to-year basis. In fact, the PacNW MLS teams and their supporters are being called "MLS 2.0" and the future of the league.

> 4. Merritt Paulson is very rich and shouldn't get taxpayer subsidies.

Every team owner is rich, so I'm not sure what bearing that has on the situation. Jeld Wen is a city owned facility and the upgrades were very cheap compared to other MLS tax payer investments (KC, Philly, etc). So you would expect your renter to remodel the house he rents from you just because he is rich?

I think I challenged one frequent commenter a while back (Bill McD?) to put their money where their mouth is and place a wager on the Timbers selling out their first three seasons. I'm still willing to take that bet if there's any takers...

That whiff by Kris Boyd about 5 feet from the goal on Saturday was priceless.

reader: stay classy. Also be careful if you watch too much of a sport you hate it might start growing on you.

Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. And now add Tim Cahill to the group. These rats are jumping on the sinking ship, eh?

Maybe you go here to take Soccer Subsidies 101:

We should rename the team the Vestas Portland Timbers.

Everything Sam Adams touches turns to gold...

My problem is with the Timbers ownership. I'd feel the same way if we threw money at Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz.

Henry Paulson is on the list of Wall Street bankers most responsible for the global financial crisis - an ongoing disaster that threatens the future of America.

If you can overlook that, go for it. I can't.

Gene, I have watched plenty of Timbers games on TV. I haven't been to a game in person yet. The sport is truly growing on me. I want the Timbers to win.

But that miss (and some others by Boyd) was bad.

"the business model for a Portland team simply isn't going to pan out."

It isn't. Not without even more taxpayer subsidies. And the city will never come out ahead, given all the giveaways to Little Lord Paulson.

the league has signed ESPN and Root Sports TV deals, has eclipsed the NHL for eyeballs, and Portland Timbers are cash flow positive on a year-to-year basis.

MLS is a glorified Ponzi scheme. It's running out of rich guys who want to play. And when the TV ratings continue to blow, season after miserable season, the TV money will go flat or even dry up.

More people watch poker on TV than MLS.

So you would expect your renter to remodel the house he rents from you just because he is rich?

No, but I would expect him to pay market rent, which LLP doesn't do, and never will. Plus, I wouldn't pay his hot dog vendors for him, either.

The Portland taxpayers got ripped off here. Paulson Sr. is a robber baron and should be in jail. The Timbers are a joke as a team, and the finances of the league are precarious at best. Those facts aren't going away no matter how hard you spin them.

Reader, you are right that Boyd is a huge disappointment. Considering that he makes more money than the rest of the team combined he should have three times he number of goals he has.

And gene, there's a big difference between a "technical sellout" and actually filling all the seats. I've been to every MLS Timbers game and this was the first one that had a noticeable number of empty seats. I guarantee someone in the front office noticed and is concerned by that.

What do you think the Timbers franchise is worth right now? More or less than what the Paulsons have sunk into it?

The MLS' problem is that 40 percent of its teams have seen attendance declines this season. Worse yet all the teams in the really big media markets - LA, DC, Boston, New York - are seeing declining attendance. That simply is not sustainable.

Garber, the head MLS guy, said the total investment in the league has been 2 billion so far and nobody's gotten a return on their money.

Another question is what is their business model? Gene brags about the big names playing in MLS but I was told by a member of the Timbers army that the whole point was to avoid bringing in expensive stars past their prime. This was the mistake in strategy NASL made. The David Beckham deal was actually the opposite of the original plan.

What is the guy driving the speedboat in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, doing playing here? Besides lighting us up for 2 world class goals? What was his deal worth again? I think Henry is making over 5 million a year. Is that the model? Do the ratings justify that kind of money?

I personally saw the Cosmos several times, including the match where Pele played the Sounders. It was tremendous to see these big names here in Portland and without sacrificing our baseball stadium either. However, that model failed and it seems like they're drifting back to it.

Of course, the whole thing could be swarmed over by what's coming next fiscally. The doomsday economists are forecasting a depression and talking about the collapse of the dollar and a possible default by America.

That could make the real question, "What will happen first?"

1. MLS will thrive.

2. The US economy will crater and the American public will finally have enough of the people who did this, putting Henry Paulson behind bars.

Of course, Merritt could use his instincts to put a team of defenders together for dear old dad, but based on the Timbers defense, that could be a problem.

Amen, Bill.

"3. The "major" American league is shaky and may not survive."

You did more than say that it "may not survive", last year you guessed that MLS would go bankrupt in 3 to 5 years. The end of this season will be year 1 and MLS is experiencing record levels of attendance. I guess we'll find out in 2.5-4.5 years, eh?

> Henry Paulson is on the list of Wall Street bankers most responsible for the global financial crisis - an ongoing disaster that threatens the future of America.

>If you can overlook that, go for it. I can't.

So how far away does your knee-jerk outrage extend? Just the immediate family? Cousins? Adopted family? Family by marriage? I guess my righteous indignation button isn't as easily pressed as yours so yes I can forgive him for being born into wealth and buying a sports team. Liz Cheney has turned herself into a neo-con figurehead, so that is an awkward comparison at best. I tend to use campaign contributions and my votes for making political statements, not my attendance at sporting events.

reader I hope you keep watching the Timbers, sorry for my reaction but you did seem a bit gleeful in that first post. Yes I agree Boyd has been a disappointment but our main problem is not lack of quality forwards, it is a lack of consistant defense combined with no quality service or possession from our midfield. You'll notice that Cooper was also a "disappointment" in Portland but this year is near the top of the goals scored list.

Regarding "technical" sellouts there has been twice when I burned one of my three season tix because a family member cancelled at the last min and I didn't want to sit by a rando. So I've personally blown two holes in their sellout streak? That's patently ridiculous. The Villa friendly was a full house, as is every league game. Last year my dad's row was mostly empty, even for big games like Seattle due to group sales and no-shows but they seem to have fixed that this year.

Despite the hand wringing I doubt the Timbers front office needs to worry about attendance through at least the end of next year. It might knock down the renewal rate from 97% to 92%, but I think they will be fine with 7000+ having paid $50 for the privilege of waiting in line for season tix.

Henry Paulson is the minority owner of the Timbers. Is that far enough for you? Cousins? Adopted family? Henry Paulson is one of the owners.

And kneejerk outrage? We're talking about the survival of America here.

And as far as an awkward comparison goes, Dick Cheney and Paulson both did tremendous damage to America - in my opinion - culminating as members of the Bush administration.

If Dick Cheney was the minority owner of the Timbers, I'd feel the same way.

Of course, he would approve of what the Timbers are doing to their fans this season because he's a big believer in torture.

Bill don't marsh Gene's mellow. There are so many that want to fantasize that someday they can be as filthy rich and criminal as the Paulsons.

Of course in the long run, destroying that illusion might be the best thing that ever happened to the dreamer class.

C'mon people, this is a big league franchise and you know it.

Want proof? Touted rookie forward Jose Valencia just got arrested in a domestic disturbance case.

AND ... Valencia hasn't played a minute all season after flunking his physical and undergoing pre-season knee surgery.

The end of this season will be year 1 and MLS is experiencing record levels of attendance.

The league is now bragging that its TV ratings on ESPN are up to a whopping 345,000 people per game. You could get more viewers with curling. There's no way MLS will be around in five years.

Another sign of how "popular" MLS soccer really is. I was in the Peppermill Sportsbook yesterday, and asked the asst. manager how much money is bet on MLS soccer. His answer - was almost NONE. Keep in miond that this is one of the 20 largest sportsbooks in Nevada; and that they do some regular business on World Cup and English League Football, but virtually none on MLS soccer.

"So you would expect your renter to remodel the house he rents from you just because he is rich?"

No, but tenant improvements are made at the tenant's expense. Richie had a baseball team, a soccer team, and a baseball stadium. He was missing a soccer stadium, right? Instead of doing what it took to get a new stadium for his soccer team, Richie booted the Beavers and got the city to do another expensive major re-do of Civic Stadium, now known as Jeld-Wen, because the "renter" was handed naming rights estimated at $30 million if I remember right. The whole thing stunk.

I've believed for a long time that the Timbers are a symbol of what happened to the global economy. We have a man here in Henry Paulson who was head of Goldman Sachs - an outfit Matt Taibbi famously described as, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

So what happens when Henry takes some of the hundreds of millions of dollars he's made and sets up junior as a sports owner?

They ask us for more money. It's right there in plain sight. And what happens to the world economy when Paulson helps turn Wall Street into the biggest unregulated casino in the galaxy? They ask for more money - not from US taxpayers so much as future generations, assuming there isn't a default and America is sold off in pieces.

And how do we react here in Portland? Our city council lines up to plant a big soft kiss on the Paulsons' rear ends, and then Timbers fans, like Gene here, rush forward to defend a man who helped bring about this global calamity.

Picture some exclusive private club in New York with the 1% sitting around talking about the Timbers:

"I understand old Hank actually has the city paying part of the wages for the concession workers."

"He's still got it."

"And read the comments from Timbers fans. They're actually getting obnoxious defending Henry against their fellow Portlanders."


"I wonder if they'll ever take those Timbers scarves and give them a good tug?"

"You mean pull their heads out of their butts? It would help them see the game better - if they wanted to..." (laughing)

"Ahh, that Hank Paulson. He's playing these people for chumps and they don't even know it."


Two examples of how Sports Business is different than Real Business:

1. Cary betrays a common misconception about naming rights: Proceeds from the sale of naming rights always go to the teams. The rationale, I presume, is that the presence of the team gives the naming rights value. Odd, but SOP.

2. Re: the Don Garber quote about teams losing money. The first two rules of franchise management are: a) If your team is losing, fire the coach. b) If your team is making money, fire the accountant.

"the business model for a Portland team simply isn't going to pan out."

It isn't. Not without even more taxpayer subsidies. And the city will never come out ahead, given all the giveaways to Little Lord Paulson.

Funny, that sounds just like the Convention Center Hotel Extravaganza.

No, Roger, teams don't "always" get the rights. It depends who owns the stadium, how it's financed, and the deal cut between the parties involved. It's entirely negotiable, and Portland got the money from naming the place PGE Park, not the Beavers, although they probably undersold it. Naming rights to Jeld-Wen were an outright gift to Paulson, considering how much equity he is putting up.

You have to read the fine print sometimes. For example, the New Orleans Saints have a naming-rights deal in which they take the first $1 million off the top, then split the rest of the money with the state.

However, the state's share is actually credits toward promised subsidy payments; no money actually leaves the Saints' hands.

Here is a survey of global soccer brands. The Timbers are valued at $15 million.


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