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Monday, February 2, 2009

Don't delay -- send in your $100 million now

Fireman Randy continues to push hard for the soccer stadium boondoggle being foisted on Portland taxpayers by Henry Merritt Paulson III. Randy, a self-confessed poor judge of character, will no doubt say 10 years from now, when the financial disaster is apparent, that Merritt misled him.

Comments (46)

The only thing I heard is that MSL was uncertain about Portland as a franchise after the Adams Chronicles. I guess that was enough to scare the Fireman into action. Dear god, what a chump!

He falls for a transparent bargaining ploy like this and says he represents us?

MSL is in a world of hurt and would kill for the $45M (or whatever the franchise fee) that Paulson would borrow.

Then again, the way Leonard does stuff he may be talked into fronting that money also. This would make it totally painless for Paulson (son and father.)

At least it'll give the illiterate public school graduates the illusion that they are going to a pub and then watching the lads.

Dear Commissioner Leonard,
I would more than willing to entertain any of your new ides once you admit you were wrong about SoWa needing $280 milion in Urban Renewal, the Tram and biotech jobs.

Hey this Merrit Paulson III isn't related to "Skank" Paulson is he????
They both seem to like to throw other people's money away to big wigs and fat cats!

His son.

Anon, I remember sitting in a few meetings with Leonard when he first got into office where he said he was very skeptical about the Tram and SoWhat. His subsequent votes and comments soon after never reflected his concerns.

Does he or his staff have the ability to analyse spread sheets, ask prying financial questions,judge character for the Ball Parks? Seems not based on his history on BioFuel, Trams and SoWhat and Adams.

How can the Portland Crooked Council suggest that we can afford $100 million of public funding for sports facilities, but not one nickel for new sidewalks that kids could walk to school on?

KATU Five O'Clock News just did a piece on this, including a brief interview with Randy. Part of the financing will "hopefully" come from sales and taxes on tickets for soccer games with no liability for Portland taxpayers UNLESS the revenue from soccer tickets falls short. Plus, it was mentioned that the City of Portland still owes $28 million for the last remodel of PGE Park.

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! No more city funds or city debt to finance sports while there is a recession/depression and until we pay off the $28 million. Get the soccer fans to put up the money BEFOREHAND.

it was mentioned that the City of Portland still owes $28 million for the last remodel of PGE Park.

No kidding.

"...financing will "hopefully" come from sales and taxes on tickets for soccer games..."

Merritt Paulson's payment on PGE park, about $1.1 million a year, might cover maintenance. Adding in the dollar ticket tax isn't getting anywhere near making headway on the proposed new debt. Consider that $85 million at 6.5 percent paid back over 20 years works out to a $633737.19 monthly payment. Selling t-shirts, beer and hot dogs isn't going to make a dent in that.

You can be skeptical about this, but could we at least reflect some fundamental understanding of the proposal before we trash it?

No. 1, the basic plan is to pay for "a lot" (my term) of this with revenues derived from the project -- ticket fees, urban renewal funding mechanisms, income tax set-asides for salaries generated by the teams. It's NOT spending $100 million that otherwise would have gone for sidewalks and "the children." Much of this is money that won't be there otherwise.

No. 2, all three of the proposed venues for this are owned by the city. If you want stadiums to be built by the owner, that's fine. Doesn't happen much in the real world, though. And if it does happen here, I wouldn't figure on them being built in Portland.

No. 3, it's at this point worth noting that the basic figures put forth by Paulson haven't changed, save for a $10 million total project bump between September and November. Nor has there been significant disagreement with those figures in the analysis done by city officials and two teams of consultants reporting to a task force.

No. 4, PGE Park currently operates at a loss. What gives us a better shot at paying off that carryover $28 mil? Two-and-a-half months of Single A baseball games like the Portland Rockies? Or a series of events that draw five-figure crowds throughout the spring and summer.

JerryB, we'd appreciate it if you would help Ty in Leonard's office do the math. Paulson's math is a little like his Dads.

"Much of this is money that won't be there otherwise."

Because CoP will need to take it on as debt that gets paid whether or not Paulson leaves town the day after. $85M means a debt payment of $6.2M/yr at 6%. If the stadia don't pay for it it comes out of the CoP general fund.

"And if it does happen here, I wouldn't figure on them being built in Portland."


"Nor has there been significant disagreement with those figures in the analysis done by city officials and two teams of consultants reporting to a task force."

All of those figures have a large dose of hope built in. Paulson's contrbution has been a 4 page business plan so far as I can tell, so I don't think an exhaustive study has been done.

"What gives us a better shot at paying off that carryover $28 mil?"

I really don't think taking on $85M of aditional debt gives us any better of a shot. This is good money after bad.

If any of these geniuses had a believable business plan, I'd listen. But so far this is the mindset that keeps telling us the Convention Center is going to work, all we need to do is throw more money at it.

Roger, what happens to the "Good Neighbor Agreement" with those "series of events that draw five-figure crowds"? 100,000 plus people without parking or other needed facilities might put a strain on SW and NW Portland.

I also thought there were "significant disagreements" on figures. Can you explain why they are now insignificant?

The quote that really drove my crazy was the old saw that it will, "create new jobs." A few hundred jobs that last the amount of time it takes to break ground and construct the new stadium and revamp an already revamped PGE Park for a major league sport that has never seen major league audiences in this country.

If Boy Paulson wants a new toy, let him line up the financing and reap the anticipated benefits.

I love out-of-the-box thinking, but this proposal makes absolutely no sense, economic or otherwise.

The reality is that Portlanders as a whole go in for participatory sports. Their kids play soccer but they really aren't going to spend a lot of time paying to watch it. Most Portlanders would rather spend their money to take their families to the slopes or on a bike ride (with everybody on their own custom-sized bike) or to the beach or kayaking down the Deschutes, etc. Even if they are affluent, they are more likely to pony up their recreational dollars for a trekking vacation in Nepal or a triathalon in Hawaii or tickets to the Tour de France -- rather than a season ticket here for a minor professional sport.

Or they'll buy Blazers tickets.

According to Dwight Jaynes's blog, ESPN has pulled the plug on its MSL game of the week because of falling ratings (average 250,000 or so a week). I can't imagine that Portlanders have tuned in at a much higher rate than the national audience. I can imagine that because of this, MSL is hot to make a deal in Portland.

Given our economic pickle at the moment, it makes no sense to put ANY city money into something like this. None. No matter if the stadium is sited in the Pearl or in Pioneer Courthouse Square. It just won't make it.

If the City is going to go further into debt, let it be to fix and improve infrastructure, not to build new things. It doesn't matter that some of the money for the sports structures will come from other pots, or wouldn't otherwise be available. City debt is City debt, and the City already owes $28 million for PGE Park.

"income tax set-asides"

I love this one. What they would have paid in state taxes for schools, roads, police, parks and everything else we all pay for, instead all of that tax money goes to pay off the debt for Merritt Paulson's business. Don't we all wish we could divert our taxes to our own businesses like that. Is part of the plan that the team and their families will use no state resources whatsoever in return? Can we seal them in that new stadium for as long as they plan to be freeloaders?

"It's NOT spending $100 million that otherwise would have gone for sidewalks and "the children.""

Yes it is.

Several of you have raised points/asked questions in such polite fashion that you've encouraged me to continue. (That'll teach you!) I'll try to be brief.

"Much of this is money that won't be there otherwise." Well if half the money for this comes from ticket sales, salaries, etc. that seems reasonable to say. If you think the city is financing $85 million, you are projecting that both stadiums will be built and no one will attend the games. I'll take THAT bet.

"What happens to the Good Neighbor Agreement? Very good question. My short answer is "I don't know." I have two longer answers.

1. The subtext of this is that the current GNA hasn't worked very well. If it's not working with crowds of 5,000, that seems to reflect some combination of poor enforcement or unreachable goals.

2. We're talking about a 20,000-seat stadium that has been there since the 1920s. If you move next door to the airport, how much can you complain about the noise?

"Significant disagreements ... " Well, I said the original bid price got bumped from $75M to $85M, and around my house that's significant. I know of no major mid-course corrections since. The current revenue projections are based on MLS crowds of 16,000, which isn't unrealistic.
Early on, proponents were saying this might be completely doable with ticket taxes and urban renewal money. To my knowledge Paulson didn't say that.

"Creating jobs ..." I didn't know there was such a thing as a permanent construction job, outside of SoWhat. I think quite a few folks would gladly take a steady gig for 9-15 months.

ESPN Ahh, Dwight. Actually, what ESPN has done is abandon a "Thursday Night Game of the Week" format for a schedule in which they will televise games on a variety of nights. ESPN is in Year 3 of an eight-year deal with MLS. They will be showing 27 games this year, if Sports Business Journal can be trusted. That's about the number they showed last year.

Roger, I thought Paulson has been talking about a PGE 38,000 seat stadium, not 20,000? That is a 78% higher number. That's significant to four inner-city neighborhoods-NW, Goosehollow, Downtown, the Pearl.

I don't think anyone is saying "no one will attend the games". They question the high numbers and the revenue from catagory of tickets sold.

Another question, with the $28 Million still owing on PGE's four year old remodel, is the general maintenance costs and normal major upkeep expenditures (like new roof, elect, plumbing updates, etc.) in that amount? No, it isn't, and most cost modeling, business enterprises include these cost. Portland just seems to build, but not (on purpose) include the real costs.

Say you're a family -- the Portlands. The Portlands have all their credit cards maxed, but haven't maxed out their home equity yet. What should they do? Fix the already leaky roof, or buy a boat? Hint: fixing the infrastructure is the roof and the boat is a new sports stadium that can't possibly pay for itself.

The reality is that Portlanders as a whole go in for participatory sports. Their kids play soccer but they really aren't going to spend a lot of time paying to watch it. Most Portlanders....

I dunno, how are the demographics for soccer fans actually stacking up in this city now? I think people are forgetting about the "immigrant factor". The ones from south of the border are BIG on soccer. I bet they would compete with Blazer games.

I'm not saying this is a good idea (it isnt)..just something to think about.

"The current revenue projections are based on MLS crowds of 16,000, which isn't unrealistic."

Uh, Roger, can you please tell us more about the projection for the "crowds of 16,000"? Is it based on attendance at Timbers games before the stock market tanked, the massive layoffs started and the employment rate zoomed up? Before people stopped buying espresso drinks at Starbucks because they can't afford it or became afraid to spend the money? Or is it based on MLS attendance in other cities? Because if the "crowds of 16,000" turn out to be crowds of 12,000 or 10,000 or - gasp! - 8,000, then the whole project is just a house of cards. Just how "realistic" is this figure?

Attendance is insignificant to the taxpayers part as I believe the tax on tickets in around $1 per ticket. Paulson is paying about $1.1 million per year in rent. That's far short of the break even point for PGE Park now. Taxpayers make up the difference. Whatever the new stadiums cost will be that much more debt paid by the taxpayers on top of what we are paying now whether anyone plays on the field or not.

We're losing around $2.5 million a year now on PGE Park and if Paulson gets his deal we'll be losing closer to $10 million dollars a year, unless his team doesn't work out in which case the figure goes up by $1.1 million.

This same faulty logic (let the renovations pay for themselves) is why PGE Park is still $28 million in the hole and now Merritt Paulson would like to walk away from that facility the same way the previous two owners did.

If/when the City of Portland fails to find a new tenant, that $28 million of unpaid renovation bonds will default (and the collateral, PGE Park, will be repo'd by the bondholders) unless the City steps up to the plate to satisfy the debt with general fund assets.

Commissioner Leonard shouldn't be allowed to hold one more public hearing or news conference on this plan until he explains IN DETAIL how the existing $28 million in debt will be retired in advance of any new City of Portland sponsored debt issue.

I would also like him (or Public-Safety-is my-highest-priority Sam) to explain how subsidizing professional sports is more important than building new sidewalks where there are none currently.

Lee: Roger, I thought Paulson has been talking about a PGE 38,000 seat stadium, not 20,000? That is a 78% higher number. That's significant to four inner-city neighborhoods-NW, Goosehollow, Downtown, the Pearl.

If it is 38,000, there is significant impact. Past events with much lighter crowds needed to depend upon leasing CSF parking lots to the north and using shuttle busses to get people the mile or so to PGE stadium. Now that that area is going condo, there will no longer be that option.

16,000 attendance for a soccer game? Are you on crack? The Trailblazers, who are playing winning basketball, are getting 20,000 at the Rose Garden. And that's on nights they are playing a good team. There are some empty seats on nignts the Blazers play a sub-.500 team. I see them all the time, because I'm a season ticket holder and actually attend most of the games.
What if this expansion team - which like most expansion teams palys poorly and lose lots of games? After the novelty wears off, where do those 16,000 people come from?
As someone who has had season tickets to MLB, NFL and NBA teams over the years; I can tell amyone that teams that don't win don't bring the fannies into the seats. It's as simple as that.
Thanks Roger for being such an obvious shill for Mr. Paulson.

"If you think the city is financing $85 million, you are projecting that both stadiums will be built and no one will attend the games."

OK, I'll take the flip side. We financed $40M on PGE Park 7 years back and guess what - It is not paying for itself.

Again, we have no business plan besides Paulson's 4 page very non-specific pitch. I am surprised even for Portland that this is enough to wangle $85M out of someone like Randy Leonard. Maybe Paulson could open the books of the Timbers to see if he even nows how to run a money-maker. Or as someone else said, maybe a personal guarantee.

Two final points:

Attendance projection. The 16,000 is essentially based on the league's average attendance figure. Seattle, which has a new team coming into MLS this year, has sold 19,000 season tickets. Last year's minor-league Timbers, while finishing in last place, drew an average of 8,500. MLS tickets, by the way, cost exactly half what Blazer tickets do.

Stadium size. The MLS renovation would not significantly increase capacity. They're talking roughly 25,000. Back when they had the left field bleachers, the capacity was always listed at about 26,000.

Roger, I've been at events in PGE Park, even before the last renovations, and attendance has been over 30,000. Paulson has been advocating special events besides MSL and it is easy to have 30,000 plus attendance, especially if fixed east stands are built and other modifications. Have you ever been there for a concert with infield seating? The impact is significant. The lightrail will have little impact in moving people.

There is a problem with using projections based on attendance figures from other cities.

Seattle metropolitan area per capita income for 2007 was about $48,500; for the Portland metropolitan area about $38,500. (If anyone has more current information, please jump in.)

Historic attendance records for soccer games at PGE Park/Civic Stadium seem more realistic to me.

Roger, are you doing the PR for Paulson's proposal?

The city is using way too much time, effort and, potentially, money to court a league that is 'Major' only in name. Soccer was, is, and will continue to be a second-tier sport in the United States. Speaking as a sports fan and forgetting the financial ramifications for a moment, we should settle for nothing less than MLB, NFL or NHL. Enough with Arena Football, indoor lacrosse and tractor pulls already! Not interested.

BTW, minor league baseball in Lents would be a disaster. Unless they concoct some sort of promotion involving meth and stolen handguns.

Actually, locating MLB in Lents would boost the local economy.

Some friends of mine used to live near Wrigley Field in Chicago. On game days, enterprising local kids would offer to "watch your car" for a fee while you watched the game. You can guess what happened to the cars of people who didn't pay. The kids made money either way.

Like other league sports, MLS keeps two sets of books recording attendance figures.

The set of figures released to the public includes all of the comp tickets provided free of charge. The actual attendance figures are not released by the league, and are available only to team ownership. The term for bumping up attendance figures in this way is called "papering the house."

A couple of years ago there was an article in a San Diego paper, perhaps the Union Tribune, from a journalist who obtained the actual attendance figures, revealing that real attendance was about 50% or less of that reported to the public.

Thanks, General!

I think I found the article you are talking about.

It indicates that about 70-75% of attendance at regular-season MLS matches in 2005 was comped or free, not paid.

URL for one such article (copy-paste, I don't know how to link directly):


Roger - Thanks for bringing a reasonable voice to the pro MLS viewpoint. I think it is reasonable for reasonable people to disagree on this issue. Nothing is guaranteed. Not success, not failure. No one knows if Paulson will get this proposal approved, and if he does, if he will be successful.

With that said, I am so tired of small minded people who spend their time coming up with all of the reasons things CANNOT work instead of trying to figure out ways that they CAN work. One takes talent, the other just an obnoxious attitude.

Soccer in American will never threaten the big three sports. That's fine with me and many other soccer fans. Portland will never been among the largest cities in the country and I am sure that is fine with you. What is behind our obsession with BIG when it comes to sports?

As this city has always supported its professional soccer franchises, it will support an MLS version of the Timbers. Anyone who knows this community knows this is the case. The attendance projections are very reasonable and, like all good business people, Paulson may have been a little conservative. Just look at the season ticket sales up in Seattle. Don't discount those numbers because we are a smaller market. We were a smaller market back when the Timbers and Sounders played in the NASL and the attendance numbers were very comparable.

As far as the wisdom of spending money to finance the stadiums I have this to say. If the city of Portland loses its current tenants at PGE Park how will that effect our finances? That is exactly what will happen if we do not approve the plan. At least this idea has a shot at being successful. As I always say, "If it's broken, fix it."

Go Blazers!

MLS/MLB Citizens Task Force: Please make them give you paid attendance counts.

mlsinpdx: The problem is that the City of Portland is being asked to take the risk of success or failure. Hank Paulson, who is reputed to have a 20% interest in this venture, was estimated to have anywhere from $550 to 700 million last year. Even if he lost half of that when the economy tanked, he has the money to finance his son's renovation of PGE, and then some. He's apparently unwilling to take the risk, probably because it's too risky. Why should the City of Portland step into this?

mlsinpdx: I've got an out of the box idea for this. You know the lie Merritt Paulson and his fans have been spreading from day one that Merritt Paulson is going to pay for the stadium upgrades? Here's the idea: make that lie into a true statement.

"If the city of Portland loses its current tenants at PGE Park how will that effect our finances?"

It does great things to our finances. An $85 million dollar bond, 30 year term, 6.5% interest, we would be over $108 million ahead if we didn't do this deal and lost Merritt Paulson's business.

Rather than throwing good money after bad, we ought to realize the PGE Park remodel was too expensive to be economically viable, as evidenced by three failed franchisees in the past decade.

After Paul Allen's (Vulcan Corp.) Rose Garden bonds defaulted, we should all recognize that gazzillionaires don't give a rat's ass about Portland, or job creation, their reputations, or their contractual obligations. They only care about money.

If the City of Portland is dumb enough to give away $85 million, then Merritt Paulson will gladly take it.

If the City refuses to subsidize minor league baseball or MLS, then maybe we can host the Little League World Series, or just put the park into the Park & Recreation rental rotation.

Let's hope our newest City Commissioners (Fish and Fritz) haven't already been bought and paid for, as Adams and Leonard clearly have (ahem!) already decided to give Merritt IV whatever he wants.

For those of you still following this post, this link will take you to a list of MLS/TAB [Major League Soccer/Triple A Baseball] Task Force Members along with a list of guiding principles for the task force.


While I recognize some of the names of task force members, I don't know which ones might rubber stamp the proposal because it serves their individual interest or the interests of their employer or organization.

Still keeping track of it. The mlstopdx fan club is trying to organize a rally sometime soon outside of city hall to sow how much we all want this project. They're trying to get a significant chunk of the people who go to game to attend of course. Hopefully 300 or so will go to that, they'll hand out a few thousand more invites and report attendance as around 8,000.

More documents on the MLS deal here:

Something at the bottom of a document named "Spectator Funds projections" at that link:
"Over the 25 years of this forecast, significant investments in City spectator facilities will likely be needed...

By way of example, in 1982, then Civic Stadium received a $9.5 million upgrade and in 2001 another $35 million was spent on PGE Park. A major reinvestment program in Memorial Coliseum has not occurred since the building opened nearly fifty years ago. Plumbing, electrical, HVAC, ice floor, etc are original systems..."

PGE Park is still an eyesore, the Rose Garden Arena is new hole to throw money into, but the Memorial Coliseum, built like a battle ship and still looking fine, that they'll probably tear down for a new baseball arena or give away to Paul Allen.

Thanks, Jerry B.

I read somewhere that this is a two-stage plan. MLS and the Beavers will play at PGE Park until the new baseball stadium is built. After that, PGE Park will be renovated/upgraded. So, the PGE Park renovation won't happen for a couple of years probably, if at all. If MLS attendance doesn't make projections, can the franchise move to another city? I hope the City is going to plan for this possibility.

Also, will the proposed baseball stadium accomodate Major League Baseball? Or will it also need to be renovated, if a major league team is Paulson's long-term plan?

I've read the same thing AH. I don't know the real reason behind separating a decision on baseball away from the soccer debate. My guess is that they are trying to make one big can of worms into two smaller cans of worms.

From various blogs and documents I've found I've seen plenty of talk about moving baseball to Beaverton or Gresham, or move it out of state. One of the criteria of the task force was that baseball remain within the city, but there is nothing binding about that, especially if baseball is no longer part of the discussion.

As far as MLB requirements on stadium size, I'm sure it exists but I don't know what it is. A proposed stadium in Oakland will be the smallest in the league at 32,000 capacity, which would be the smallest in the league. The proposed baseball park here would seat 8000 to 9000. There could be some way of taking that small park and building the required facilities around it, but that's wishful thinking.

Can the franchise move to another city? I don't know. There is no agreement yet. Someone at the task force meeting January 6th asked that very question though. Here is the response from the meeting notes:

"Q: It seems as though the big money comes from the sale/relocation of the team. Are there guarantees not to sell the team if it is successful?
A: Why would you sell a successful team? The City will decide that"

"I am so tired of small minded people who spend their time coming up with all of the reasons things CANNOT work instead of trying to figure out ways that they CAN work."

I am waiting to hear how this thing will work besides rosy projections. Let's ignore the fact that MLS is losing money in 11 out of 14 towns already.

When will the soccer-nuts get their head out of the sand and look at the schools, roads and public debt?

At least in their January 20th meeting they finally fessed up about how great it would be to raise property taxes as security for the public assumption of debt on behalf of Lil' Richie Paulson.

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