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Choices abound for MLS expansion
by Ridge Mahoney, May 2nd, 2008 11AM
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TAGS:  mls


Fortunately, both Vancouver and Portland are in the running for MLS expansion slots as we gaze at the horizon beyond 2009 entrant Seattle and 2010 rookie Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, both look to be longshots. The smart money is betting that St. Louis will find its funding sooner or later, a second team in New York is being hotly, yet quietly, pursued by certain interests, and Montreal is one of several other candidates that can't be ignored.

This is especially sad in the case of Portland, and by no means do I mean to slight Vancouver, a fabulous city with a wonderful soccer tradition. A waterfront stadium, near the Gastown district, would be just this side of nirvana. Plus, one of the movers and shakers trying to make it happen is former NASL All-Star and Canadian international Bobby Lenarduzzi and if anyone deserves to pull it off, 'tis him.

Yet Portland would be my pick if only one can be included, since it would be the Great Northwest's version of Toronto FC, close to downtown and near a hub of public transit. A short tram ride or brisk walk up SW 18th Ave., delivers you to the entrance of PG&E Park, currently the home of the minor-league baseball Beavers, for which a new home would be needed if MLS moved in.

(I don't foresee MLS stopping at 18 teams regardless of any FIFA dictum, should it find suitable markets to push on. MLS can cite many factors: inclusion of a team or teams from a second country, the fact the league plays through FIFA international dates and competitions anyway, a population of more than 300 million spread across four time zones, and, just maybe, a willingness to test FIFA's absolutist decrees in American courts if push comes to shove. That's my stance, not that of MLS, by the way.)

Still, Portland MLS faces numerous logistical, political, and financial hurdles.

Merritt Paulson
, owner of the Beavers and USL Timbers, needs to not only secure financing to renovate PG&E, which won't cost less than $25 million and probably more, he also needs to find a new home for the Beavers, for which he's found three possible sites within the city.

First Paulson, who some time this summer will present to city officials a detailed proposal, must strike a partnership with the city by which the expansion fee - not formally set but probably to be pegged at $35 million or $40 million - and operating costs would be paid, including renovation of PG&E, which the city owns.

Adding to the burden is construction of a facility for the Beavers. The total investment in all projects, including an expansion fee, is likely to be in excess of $100 million.

That's a lot of dough, but at least Paulson has received some positive, if preliminary, feedback from city officials.

Contrast that situation with Houston, where Mayor Bill White's strident refusal to commit any public funds to a stadium for the Dynamo has stalled progress.

The Vancouver project is also lurching. Lenarduzzi, president of the USL Whitecaps, has raised the possibility of playing temporarily in B.C. Place Stadium while a facility is built, once - and if -- the specifics can be worked out.

Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot purchased waterfront land three years ago and since then there's been a lot of talk about acquiring additional land, and not much else.

Perfect World MLS would have Portland, Vancouver and Seattle comprising a triad of Northwest hotbeds reminiscent of the NASL days. Yet PG&E evokes memories of the NASL, the late Clive Charles, the Women's World Cup, and perhaps most of all, a stunning Tab Ramos strike that downed Costa Rica 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier and 27,000 fans, nearly all clad in white, shaking in celebration.

Portland may not be feasible. But it gets my vote.

  1. Bruce Gowan
    commented on: May 2, 2008 at 10:24 a.m.
    Thanks for your input Ridge but the Northwest really! Let's see now, the biggest problem that MLS has is lack of money and the biggest source of additional revenue would be media. That means national TV. Northwest is not a media center, is in the wrong time zone for most of the country and has no population. Comparisons to the NASL is lame since they folded in part because they located in nowhere locations like Portland and Tulsa. If I am picking I go with states with population and media centers in those states. I can sell sponsors on that situation but how do you sell Portland to a national advertiser. Portland, Vancouver and Seattle are good locations for USL D1 teams drawing local fans and broadcast on local cable.
  1. Perry Adair
    commented on: May 2, 2008 at 3:02 p.m.
    Can't disagree more Bruce. As a Galaxy fan in Ann Arbor, I haven't an issue with the different time zone. And as far as your population argument goes, Advertisers have not based their ad spend decisions solely on the number of people in a metro area or regions for decades. Concepts like segmentation and having a concentration of people in the target audience is most important. The west coast cities are proportionally chock full of the right behavioral and attitudinal, demographic, etc makeup for a fervent soccer audience. Probably way more so than, say Atlanta or some other large cities in contention. If I were an advertiser that wanted to reach a 'soccer psychographic', I'd not care if market A had 10m people and market B had 5m people, if both of them had 500,000 people in my target segment. And I'd go with the smaller city if it meant that I could reach that group less expensively or more efficiently, having to cut through less advertising noise. It seems like if there was a per capita soccer fan metric, I figure that Portland would fare better than most northeast cities. I don't know Portland all that well, but I figure the proportion of the right segment is the phenomena at play with their very large fan base for a second division team and a mid-tier city. Also, I think you've got your facts wrong about the size of the West Coast Markets in question anyway. Seattle is the #13 media market in the country and Portland is #23, whereas Kansas City is #31, and Columbus is #32.
  1. Joe d. Shaw
    commented on: May 7, 2008 at 8:52 p.m.
    What do you think of MLS expansion to 24 teams in two divisions of 12 ala MLB? A team plays twice against division foes-22 games- and once against the teams in the other division for a total of 34 games. That won't happen for awhile if ever but it could be a way around limits to the number of first division teams. At some point there has to be an east and west split. Transportation costs could be the barrier that stymies league plans. But so far, Garber is a visionary and a prophet. Keep up the good work Dono.

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