Wednesday, April 30, 2008

MLS Expansion - If Portland doesn't act fast, owner might be priced out of MLS

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson would love to bring Major League Soccer to town, but he is concerned that the ever increasing expansion fee (now sitting at $40 million +) might price him out of consideration.

Still the dream of top-level soccer in the city is moving forward as Paulson plans on presenting his full proposal for a MLS team to the city as early as June. It is very much expected that he will ask for a public-private partnership that could cost the city more then $55 million.
Portland's bid hinges on Paulson and the city agreeing to a public-private partnership. Paulson said he is willing to absorb the league's $40 million expansion fee. The city would be on the hook for the rest, Paulson said, which probably would amount to more than $55 million.
A breakdown of the city's cost sees at least $20m going to the renovation of the Timbers current home PGE Park, which needs 'grandstand seating on the stadium's vacant east side, plus more restrooms and concessions.' The other $35m would go to the construction of a new, 9,000-seat baseball stadium for the Portland Beavers. The Beavers currently play at PGE Park but with the improvements mentioned above, would no longer be able to call it home. Paulson also owns the Beavers.

I guess the biggest question I have about the Portland situation has to do with the ownership group. Paulson is not a poor man but he is not the billionaire type the league has been looking for of late. This makes the Portland situation seem a lot like the St. Louis situation. If the city approves the funding request, both cities will have rich but not mega-rich owners with solid public backing.

One big difference, unlike Paulson, St. Louis owner Jeff Cooper is not the son of the current US Secretary of the Treasury.

Anyway, the question I have for Paulson is how much he is willing to invest in a future team beyond the roughly $40m expansion fee and does he have other owners setup to take part in the project (his pop is partial owner in the sports teams)?

If Paulson is not ready to invest the big money needed to make Portland a success, I find it hard to see the league moving in.

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