Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Love Mike Petke

This is one of the funniest things I've read in a while, and while it takes a shot at one of my rivals, it also points out one of the things I hate about sports - the bandwagon fan. I've seen a bit of it with the Timbers now that we've made MLS, and the Trail Blazers have been suffering from the problem for a while now.

It's easy to support a winner, it's easy to say that my team has won more titles so that's why I like them, and I'm sure there are plenty of lifelong Yankee fans, Laker Fans, or Cowboy fans, but it's difficult to watch a team like the Flounders up north go from a group that couldn't draw 2 to 3 thousand fans regularly and now suddenly draw 32,000 in an atmosphere that while it was very loud, was also very controlled and sterile. It reminded me a lot of the atmosphere at an NBA match, and while I personally don't mind the canned chants and sound effects at most NBA arenas, I love soccer atmosphere more because it's mostly generated by the fans. But suddenly, the Flounders get corporate muscle behind them, and you find fans that knew nothing of the history of the club, the rivals, or the sport, but suddenly they've found their favorite team. I can respect someone who has stuck with their team through good and bad, worshiped the many players over the years, and really understands the history of their team, because that's what being a fan is all about.

I will be watching with curiosity as the novelty wears off, and how many of the fans will stick around when things slow down a bit, because invariably, they will. The Trail Blazers are the best evidence of that, going from a team that was worshiped and adored for years carrying a 23 year playoff run, and then falling into complete chaos when the players turned on the town and each other. Try being a fan of that team during that time, and then I think you can say you're a true fan and not somebody that just joined for the ride.

And to the newest Timbers fans, I will ask you to learn something about the history of the club, the rivalries, and the chants, because for a lot of us, it actually means something. Yes, it's hip and cool to yell loudly and drop profanity in a crowd, but at the same point, we wear the scarves because they mean something to us, and it's more than just for representing our team. The Timbers Army are a family, a collective of people who come from different walks of life and varying interests that put individual things aside many times a year to yell and sing for their team. We also spend time in the community, giving back to the place that we call home, whether it's helping at Habitat or donating to Doernbecher. Being TA is more than just going to the games, and if you are really interested in becoming more than a bandwagon fan, talk to the TA members that have been here for a while. Learn about the history, and what it means to us. If it's for you, great, if not, well, you can still come and chant with us because our team needs the support. Just make sure to stay on the bandwagon, cause it's going to be an amazing ride.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quick Post for a Monday

Here is another nice account of Friday's events, courtesy of El Diablo from the SCUSA universe. It's nice to have another perspective of things, and I wanted to share it with everyone.

Not much to report from this end for now, the Trail Blazers lost to the 76ers tonight at home, but still are very much in the playoff race with only 11 games left. We'll chat more about them later in the week.

Have a great Monday all, and be safe.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I'm Still In Shock Right Now..

"We'd like to announce that Portland will become the 18th and newest franchise for Major League Soccer." And with that, the room erupts in a sea of cheers, hugs, chants, and pure bedlam. Of course for the folks of the Timbers Army, this was probably the worst kept secret ever, since it had been alluded to during the broadcast of the Flounders - Energy Drinks the previous evening, plus our boards and emails had been flooded with calls to get ready from Friday. The crowd was so big, they were turning people away at the door, and it was pure insanity inside.

The official MLS announcement is right here, and you can read more about the official press stuff in this link. And if you look really closely behind Don Garber in the first link, you'll see half of my face in a bit of a cheer. Yes, I was on the stage at the announcement, and it was a nice vantage point. It was completely hot and bright from the lights, but it was a great place to be. And honestly, when girl and I walked in a bit before 9:30AM, we were walking up the stairs when our friend Finnegan motioned girl over to the right and said to stand over here, and bring me with her. The next thing I know, a person from MLS is saying we are going on stage and to be polite and cheer, line up from shortest to tallest, and have a good time. I stood behind girl, found someone to watch my backpack (Thank you, Jerroid!!), and then we walked in and stood for about 15 minutes, chanting, cheering, and dancing a bit while we waited for the announcement. And folks kept filing in. And then more came, and then still more.

I got some pictures from the stage, and a couple of videos as well, and even captured a bit of the fun later at the pub and at the match later that day versus Red Bull New York. I also got a link to the pictures from the official Soccer City USA site, courtesy of Allison. We knew about the match for a few weeks, but I had no idea that it would then become a celebration of MLS. I know there's a lot of people that worked very hard to make this happen, and a lot of credit goes towards them within the Timbers Army. While Merritt has worked tirelessly to secure financing, appear on television, and do many of the media tasks that surround bringing the team here, there's been dozens of Timbers employees helping along the way. The City Council deserves a lot of credit as well for believing in Merritt and soccer in Portland, and realizing this has a chance to be something special. MLS also deserves some credit for realizing the potential of the Portland market, and seeing the opportunity to build from the rebirth of the Pacific Northwest rivalry and the Cascadia Cup. And that doesn't mention the hours of time the Timbers Army have devoted to helping, from attending task force meetings, creating artwork, spending time on news blogs promoting the team or smashing on douche nozzles that are clueless, wearing scarves about town to promote the team, or just generally be enthusiastic about soccer in Portland. It was certainly a team effort, and a chance for everyone to celebrate what was going on.

The match itself showed me that as a team, we have a long way to go. We have a great defense, and Steven Cronin has solidified our goalkeeping situation greatly. And we have some creative players, who are just learning now how to play the game with each other, learning tendencies and strengths. I saw the team take chances they wouldn't have last year, and while we only got 4 shots on goal, I thought we played well, against an MLS side in New York that has some talent, but it appears they are also trying to gel a bit. It was great to see a large TA group there, almost 500 folks, and while the rain was driving down, it didn't dampen our enthusiasm one bit. What more could you want, a new MLS team coming, celebration all day, and then your team taking the pitch that night. Seems like the recipe for a really great day.

Although admittedly, I was struggling to celebrate at times, as my emotions have been all over the place lately. I mentioned that I have been going to counseling a few weeks ago, and the process has been one of the most painful and rewarding things I've dealt with. I had always considered myself a low key, laid back person from my childhood, but I've come to find out that a big part of that was due to my mom really coddling me on many things and dealing with a sister who while I love very dearly, always needed to have her way and get the last word in. My mom didn't make smart choices in husbands either, and her last husband majored in intimidation and was an asshole. He never had many friends, mostly because he was too busy being a jerk or trying to show off what he had or had earned. And I spent many years trying to earn his respect, and tried to figure out why my life was so all over the place yet my mom kept telling me things would be OK. And then I lost her, and even my step dad admitted that he figured I'd be a wreck trying to figure out what to do.

Well, what happened was that I fell in with a group that gave me the unconditional love and support that you get from a family. They've propped me when I needed it, smiled when I was in pain, laughed at me or with me when I was doing something unusual, and they've shown me the love and friendship I so needed in my life. You may not be able to choose your family, but you can choose your friends, and I fell into this lot because of a love for soccer and due to Obi. Now, I have some of the best friends a guy could ask for, and a wife who I love more than anything. My old self would have told me I didn't deserve all of this, because you don't deserve to be happy. And that old self came popping out a few times yesterday, when I should have been celebrating and whooping it up.

But then, I saw the faces of the TA at the Bitter End, I heard Bickle talk about the triangle of the new TA, I spend time with Drumman, General Timber Howie, RC and Drumman's son after the match, and even talked with Gavin for a bit while he was buying girl and me pints. And Scot even came over and chatted with us for a bit, thanking us for coming out to the match, which really was a lot of fun even in the rain. It's Portland, and it's March so it rains, get used to it. And I realized that I'm part of something that is so much bigger than me, so much bigger than one person, and I've got a green and while family that shows me love because of the team I support, and because I choose to contribute something to the cause. It's one thing to come to the matches, but it's another to contribute time to help promote the team, money to travel or buy the latest merchandise, or just care and believe beyond reason. I saw Bickle's enthusiasm at explaining the team, town, and timbers army, and the desire to want to envelop the town in Timbers love, and I realized that I'm home and where I want to be.

And mind you, this process will continue to be hard, because it's hard to face the reality that you might just be messed up, and the things and beliefs you had growing up just don't fit anymore, or your sense of history isn't the true reality of what happened. I'm not talking about anything happening to me that was so terrible, but in the years of trying to figure out who I was, I became the things that people wanted me to be, not what I should have become. And the Timbers Army showed me that being who you should be is important, because it's important to love yourself, your team, and your city beyond anything. I never quite expected to learn this by simply wearing a green and white scarf, but I think that it's apparent that I've learned an important lesson about family and it being redefined for me. I used to think you couldn't really choose your family, but I've learned that a green and white scarf and some of the best people ever proves otherwise.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So Now What Happens? Gee, That Was A Quick Response

So now what happens? Well, I got this email tonight to be at this location at the time, and I think you'll see history in the making:

It has come to our attention that there will be a very important announcement this Friday with the Portland Timbers and and MLS representatives.

  • What: Rally and Press Conference Announcement
  • When: 9:30 a.m., Friday March 20
  • Where: Portland Hilton, 921 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland Oregon
  • What we need to do: We need to take what we did with the MLS to PDX rally and be even louder, prouder, more drums, and even more noise. It looks like this is going to be the CELEBRATION we have all been waiting for! Our goal is 300 people for this event wearing your green and white plus as many scarves as we can muster.

Arrive early to claim your flag, banner, drum etc. As always, the Timbers Army and Timbers fans will play a prominent part in any announcement. Do whatever it takes to join us, and be a part of history.

Gee, I posted something on the blog, and now all I can say is wow!!! It's simply amazing that this has gone from a pipe dream to potential reality in a matter of weeks. And Friday's match at the Bluff is going to be insane, and I'll post something over the weekend talking about. Right now, though, I just want to sit back and be happy. Because the wait is over, and MLS will learn what the Rose City is all about!!

So Now What Happens

I couldn't think of a better title after last week's events, but it is a question I've been asked by a lot of my friends. Especially since the City Council voted 3 to 2 to the agreement to work on an agreement, so what's the next step?

Well, I could write it all down, or just link you to Mark Larrabee's last article about it, which really does a good job of explaining the next steps. There's still a lot of work to do, but what this does do is allow Merritt Paulson to start talking more to MLS, and allows more concrete work to be done in firming up the financing. There's still the $15 million dollar question to be figured out, plus there's also the question of where do the Trail Blazers stand on all of this?

As you may know from reading this blog or the newspaper, the Trail Blazers made a last ditch attempt to submarine the MLS deal. I did get a very nice email from the team about it, saying it was miscommunication on their part, but they want to make sure their vision matches the vision for the area. With all due respect to the team, the Coliseum isn't theirs to decide what to do, and the fact that this tidbit of information is even under contention makes me more angry at the team. They've finally got things going the right way on the court, but instead of making smart business decisions, they make short sighted decisions without gaging the impact. A large portion of the team's fan base still can't see the games on cable because Comcast Sports Net isn't on most satellite systems, the team is raising ticket prices in most parts of the arena, and then this. Seriously, are you just trying to kill any good will the town has for this team? I know it's hard to separate the team from the business end, but for me, that's really what I will need to do over the next few weeks. It's sad because I am happy they are making a playoff run, but at the same time, the greed and lack of forethought lately makes me wonder about the culture of the team.

The schools are also ramping up for any fight about the potential of an urban renewal district, courtesy of the commissioner of the county, Ted Wheeler. One organization, Stand for Children, was so proud of their efforts to get this removed, they celebrated the decision with a congratulatory email, which some of the Timbers Army received. I can understand wanting to protect your domain, but as has been pointed out, it's not as if the city was the only group to profit from these districts, as schools and other public services have benefited from these. I wonder what will happen now if schools try these type of bonds to finance their expansion, and how some people might react to it? What frustrated me about their conduct during the hearing and afterwards is that Portland Public Schools was the only group with their hands out so to speak, saying the idea would harm them, yet other school districts would be affected as well. Plus, this idea had been on the table for months, and instead of being constructive and helping the process along, you wait for an last minute tactic to attempt to destroy it. Wow, that's thinking about the city as a whole.

I get that educating kids is expensive and schools need attention, but I also have an educator in my family and a relative that works for a school as a secretary, and I get to see the other side of the equation. Teachers working long hours with little direction, trying to manage the testing needs with actual learning, while the districts continue to throw money at the situation and the results are average at best. Two issues that I see with the schools is the budgeting process itself and the influx of new students. Oregon's budget process doesn't allow districts to keep any funds they don't spend, so agencies need to spend it in order to prove it was a need, and if you don't spend it, it may or may not be added in future budgets. So instead of spending wisely and trying to save, it's a matter of spend it or else, so many decisions may not be the wisest. And when you are trying to educate a vastly changing populace about here, I know it's a challenge, but is it the right choice to try and educate kids in Spanish, hoping they will be able to catch up with the rest of the class? Not that I want to pile on complaints I hear about all the time, but it is frustrating to hear about children who either can't learn English or don't want to, so it's a matter of the districts to meet the need, even if that slows down everybody else. I get that for many people that move here, it's comfortable to speak in your native tongue, but at the same time, say I moved to Italy, I wouldn't expect the Italians to all speak English for me, I'd learn the language.

And I never want to short change the schools, because I understand education is important, but at the same time, is that the only thing that should even benefit from state budgets, city budgets or windfalls? I remember being told that school districts would fail if they didn't get more money, and that conversation was when I was in 7th grade, which is almost 30 years ago. I kept hearing it during my school days there, while in Spokane at college, and during the nearly 20 years I've lived in Oregon. At some point, you have to ask yourself when is it enough? The gloom and doom message is great every now and then, and it's easy to say it's about the kids and their future, but at what point do you have to start asking yourself is it time to look elsewhere? I'm not advocating pulling massive amounts of money out of schools, but rather look at the financing angle and see if there's a better way to do this. The tax structure in Oregon is already wacky, and subject to the volatility of the housing markets, since property tax remains a key funding source, and the ups and down of employment. If people are losing homes and jobs, that does impact us greatly as a state, but when things are good in those areas, we are fine. Maybe it's time to find something more stable.

But at this point, those discussions are long off, and probably won't happen for a while. For now, the focus is on contacting MLS to alert them to what Portland can bring, and providing grass roots support when Merritt does make his MLS pitch. He will be in Seattle this Thursday to start the MLS season, and while I don't expect an announcement for us there, I would expect it soon. Vancouver has already been linked as a near definite choice, and I'm glad they got chosen. They are a smart soccer market, have great fans, and it's a beautiful city to visit, and I look forward to many trips up there over the years. And the Timbers actually started their season last week in San Jose, and play at the University of Portland on Friday versus New York Red Bull. Showing support of the current USL team helps the overall MLS effort, so if you can come, please do, and if not, find another game soon to attend and bring a friend. There's still a lot to do, and many questions to answer. But one thing is not in dispute. Portland is Soccer City USA, and the MLS is coming, whether the naysayers like it or not.

I'll provide my thoughts about Friday over the weekend, stay dry out there everybody.

Friday, March 13, 2009

One Crazy Ride, But We Always Win 3 to 2.

3:37 pm, March 11th. History was made in Portland, and it was a long, crazy ass ride.

I have been through emotional rides before, like when I lost my mom or on days at work where the shit is proverbially hitting the fan, but Wednesday was such a different experience. I won't ever forget what happened. But before I get to that, let's start at the beginning of the day.

I had asked for the day off from my job to make sure that I could attend the City Council meeting where the council discussed the proposal to bring MLS to Portland, in addition to discussing a new triple AAA ball park for the Portland Beavers. Talks had problems on the preceding Friday, but apparently, a deal had been struck over the weekend between Sam Adams (current mayor of Portland), Randy Leonard (city commissioner), and Merritt Paulson (current owner of the Timbers and Beavers). The deal was announced on Tuesday, and so the council was going to discuss the plan during their regular Wednesday meeting, starting at 9:30 AM. I went to bed that night after scrambling about to get caught up on work stuff, TV stuff, and helping girl so that she could come to the hearing as well. We went to bed rather late, and as usual, I fell asleep almost immediately after my head hit the pillow, but she had some nervous energy, because it was going to be a big day.

I woke up just before 7 AM, as girl had dropped her mom off at work, because her car was in the shop. She had gotten back, and was going to check email before eating and getting ready to head downtown. I logged onto the board (, and was checking on the headlines and topics. The board has been crazy, as members of the Timbers Army were preparing for today, posting links to various media outlets, sharing letters that they'd written to various people, and posted comments from people who either supported or hated the idea of MLS. As I sat down, girl had mentioned that they were asking for someone to read a letter from our friend Gary from Seaham. He had written a wonderful story about his first trip to Portland, the hospitality that he was shown, and how much he enjoyed the passion that the Timbers Army showed during matches. I originally wasn't going to testify, but when the opportunity presented itself, I didn't hesitate to say I would read it. Gary is a wonderful friend of mine, and he's done a lot for me personally after two trips across the pond, so I felt honored that it would be me sharing his words. After putting out the trash, showering and eating, we left the house at 8 AM. We wanted to be in the chambers by 8:45 AM so that we could sign me up to talk.

The traffic wasn't terrible for a Wednesday morning, but the drive into downtown didn't make me miss commuting into the core of Portland one bit. I love the people that jump lane to lane, or are doing other things while driving, but it's what you see in the morning, so it is what it is. We pulled into 4th street about 8:40 AM, and found a parking garage near City Hall, the site of the hearing. I figured we would be in and out within a few hours, as the council meeting was supposed to start at 9:30 AM with the vote happening around 11 AM. But I also remember my days of being in student senate at Gonzaga, and meetings almost invariably never followed the right schedule, as they often went long or ended way early. While I hoped that it would end early, I wasn't that optimistic about that happening. As we pulled into the garage, I took the ticket and pulled into the first floor and got ready to park, when girl said, "No, wrong spot, it's 106. Go one more over!", and sure enough spot 107 was open, so we parked there. I firmly believe in karma, so hey, anything I could do to help the cause, let's do it. I even pulled out my match day scarf to wear with my green shirt, so that I followed the color scheme of the TA. As we walked down to City Hall, we saw the Tri-Met number 10 to Sunderland, letting people off. Again, perhaps another sign, as I was ready to read a letter from a Sunderland AFC supporter to our city council in support of MLS.

We passed through security at 8:50 AM, and walked upstairs to see the semi-large group of Timbers Army already waiting to get into the council chambers. There was at least 50 people gathered outside, waiting for the 9 AM time to sign up and I ran into many of my friends, and a few Army members that I hadn't met yet but knew me and girl by face. Finn, our main TA organizer for MLS to PDX, made sure I was Ok to read the speech, and Obi even offered me a SAFC scarf to wear while reading Gary's letter, but I decided to stick with my match day TA scarf. It made me feel comfortable, and so as I wandered up to sign up, I felt ready and calm to go. I'd already been talking with various city council members by email to provide input about the decision, answer any questions they might have about MLS, and do what I could to provide information about Paulson's idea. The chambers opened up soon after 9 AM, and we saw Merritt walking in, and he stood outside, shook a few hands and thanked us for being there. After the bonding moment, many of us started to head in. There was already a half dozen news cameras there, following us in and taking pictures before things got rolling. The lower floor of the chambers was filled with TA, so many that they had to open the balcony for more seating. I don't think anyone expected this many people, as evident by many of the council meeting regulars who were used to getting close up seating. Today would be a little different.

At 9:35ish the Councilors and Mayor Adams wandered in, and things officially got going. The first hour was going through the agenda items before soccer, including two calls for Adams to resign, a prayer from a pastor, and the Palau foundation giving the city money. It was rather interesting to hear the discussion about various things, and the business was handled rather respectfully. I did find it funny that most of the people asking for Adams to resign didn't appear to be Portland residents, but at any event, around 10:30, the topic of MLS started up. Being a former college senator, I was used to the parlimentary rules of procedure, so following along was pretty easy. First, the task force chairman talked....and talked...and talked...and got grilled with some questions. I noticed a few people typing into their computers, and apparently, Oregon Live sent one of their columnists to follow along. Ryan White did a great job of following along, and honestly, I'm not sure I could have done such a good job keeping up and making it sound interesting.

The city attorneys came up, and talked more about the nuts and bolts, and got questioned more, as Commissioners Fish and Fritz were asking most of the questions. The deal had been brokered by Commissioner Leonard and Mayor Adams, who fielded and clarified things, but the attorneys and PDC guys talked for nearly another hour, until Merritt took the stand around noon time. By now, my stomach was still in knots as I'd expected to have been gone by now, but at the rate we were going, it looked to be a very long day. I even got my picture taken by the Oregonian with girl sitting next to me, I believe it was taken about 11 AM or so, about the point that I had wished I had eaten more than a bowl of cereal. The discussion continued, and there were many questions thrown out, some good and some not so good. Fritz indicated she hadn't seen the documentation until today, although if that was truly the case, she grasped some of the text pretty well. There was plenty of talk about seating, the ballpark, transportation credits, urban renewal districts, zero coupon bonds, and more finance talk than I'd heard since my college days. Needless to say, lots of details were discussed at great length.

Around 11:55 AM after Merritt left the microphone, Multnomah County Commissioner Ted Wheeler took the stand, and the next 45 minutes or so was punctuated as "the Leonard - Wheeler" bitch fest. I'd never seen anything like it, as Wheeler and Leonard took shots at each other verbally about urban renewal districts. Wheeler didn't want one formed because it would affect the county budget adversely, although Leonard pointed out that not only does the county have many now that they earn from, but that he'd mentioned to Wheeler 3 months ago this was part of the plan. Apparently, that fact didn't register until the thing became a back and forth trading of barbs, with a final "oh, snap" moment where Leonard basically said Wheeler didn't know what he was talking about, followed by Wheeler's "uh, your mom" retort. It was truly a spectacle to follow, but the events here did have an affect on things later. Wheeler was joined by someone from the Portland Public Schools, who said this proposal would hurt their budget, too, so please don't do it.

It's not that I have anything against schools mind you, but it seems like the PPS always has their hand out if they can get more money, and sure enough, it appeared they were upset that an urban renewal district would be put in around PGE Park that could adversely affect them. URDs allow an area to set up a taxable district, in which bonds can be issued. However, these bonds can affect the amount available for other public entities, such as schools, if they wish to either set up bonds, and they can impact the taxable values of properties in the area, which affects the amount they collect from the states and counties. In most cases, the bonds and other public financing work in conjunction with each other, but apparently, the county and PPS felt otherwise, and so it was their time to say their peace. Once this was done, more task force dudes came up and said their peace. It was interesting that the task force had unanimously agreed on the recommendation, and one of the guys admitted he was a no until that final meeting.

The public testimony finally got rolling just before 1 PM. Short statements good, but you have 3 minutes to talk and then you get cut off anyway. Most of the other council business has been pushed to other days and meetings, so at this point, we're in for the long haul. Most of the speakers have good things to say about MLS, including the president of the Oregon Sports Authority, some veterans who were happy at the prospect of getting a new memorial, and lots of Timbers Army, while many spoke against it, including a guy that felt the Coliseum made more money with cat shows than baseball, and a city employee that thought it was a waste of time. There was another veteran who said they were supposed to get use of the Memorial Coliseum, but apparently no one remembered this fact. He didn't seem to mind it possibly being torn down, especially at getting a new memorial.

At 1:25 pm, my name gets called, and I'm up there with two other TA, Kari Sue and Obi. It's Obi's fault that I joined the TA, so it was fitting that we were up there to testify at the same time. My part went rather well, I didn't butcher the letter too bad, and by 1:33 PM, I was done. The letter was from the heart, and while I missed some of the words, it was an honor to read it. Even the mayor liked the story, and within a few more minutes, I was back at my seat. I never felt such a thrill as actually standing up for something I believed in.

But my optimism was short lived as at 2:13 pm, the Portland Trail Blazers testified, and said the MLS deal, specifically the baseball part, harms them. Up until now, they'd been a willing participant, realizing that another tenant might bring more folks to the Rose Garden, an area that has really struggled to pull people there on non-game nights. While the Blazers had been supportive, they suddenly said that their idea for an entertainment district near there would be harmed by the baseball park, and it would cause them economic harm. I'm not sure what loud sound I heard first, Merritt's jaw dropping at the change of heart, or Adams and Leonard sitting dumbfounded at the situation. Even the local sports columnist, John Canzano, was disheartened at the conduct, and wrote about it at great length today. It's one thing if you were disrupting an already established area, but in the 15 years since the RG was built, it's still what it is, two arenas, some random office buildings and a restaurant. While baseball would fill in crowds on non-basketball nights, I think the problem here is as simple as asking this - Do the Blazers want competition in their market? Or Do the Blazers want competition in their market for revenue streams that they currently have a monopoly on? The Trail Blazers guy leaves hurriedly, and the room is still stunned at what just happened.

The testimony continues, Merritt goes back up to talk more, more legal stuff gets talked about, and around 3 Pm, they decide to see if they even want to vote today. When suddenly, Commissioner Saltzman proposes an amendment to remove the URD part of the financing, and the piece that the county was complaining about is discussed and gone. The amount of the financing is $15 million and so it will need to come from somewhere, either another source or a URD that the county and schools can agree upon, but either way, it needs to be in place by September 1st, when this agreement officially becomes binding after a vote. It appears that with this one change, perhaps we might get a vote and it will finally pass. It appears that Fish is leaning towards a yes, Saltzman and Fritz are no's, while Leonard and Adams are already committed yes votes. We hit 3:20 and then it's time for final remarks.

Fritz pulls out some soccer scarves, talking about being a huge soccer fan, and loving the game. She continues on about soccer, when her tone changes about not wanting to hurt the city or the Trail Blazers, and after a rambling roundabout speech, she said she can't support it, and so the first no vote is on the book. Fish steps up, saying he'd be the first in line to buy MLS season tickets, but he can't support the idea of harming county services, and so he's a no. I'm shocked by this one, because I thought he was a yes. The Army sits huddled in their chairs, realizing that our fate hangs by one final vote. If it's a yes, we are in, if not, the MLS dream is done. Saltzman starts to talk about financial terms, and not harming the city, but soon says "This seems like a good stadium deal for us and I look forward to discussing it more, so I'll vote yes"

The room explodes into a crazed celebration of cheers and tears. Girl cried in her seat, I sat there stunned and humbled while tearing up, and there was plenty of noise. Leonard and Adams soon cast their yes votes with short discussion, and soon enough, the deal is passed 3 to 2. There's still the 15 million dollar question, but we can go to MLS with the deal and go from there. It's now a matter of MLS saying yes to Portland. I shook Merritt's hand later, got to speak with Sam Adams a bit, and generally hugged and celebrated with the TA around there. It was a truly great moment, and one of historic proportions. I had truly seen the city at work, and while we got what we wanted, it wasn't without challenges.

We live in a society that doesn't believe in sharing truth anymore, but rather placing doubt on ideas as much as possible because information can be skewed in many different ways. I don't want schools to be harmed, or the Trail Blazers to suffer monetarily, but at the same point, if schools can't find ways to more efficiently use their funds, why should they get more. And seriously, as much as I love the Trail Blazers, they seriously upset a lot of fans with their antics on Wednesday, and while I'll support the team, I have issues with the business end. But as we ended up at the Bitter End celebrating, none of that mattered. We all celebrated because for one night, we convinced a city that soccer was a good thing, and we got three powerful people to believe in it's future in Portland. And when Merritt came into the pub later to celebrate and buy drinks for everyone, it showed exactly what kind of a guy he is - one that loves Portland and wants to see this happen.

I did send thank you notes to the council, to Ryan for his humour, and to the Trail Blazers, and while I was cordial in every one of them, I won't forget the lessons learned on this journey. There's a lot more work to be done, but at least for now, we have achieved something that just a few months ago seemed like a pipe dream. And I will remember this day when I'm sitting in PGE Park in 2011 as the Timbers open up their MLS campaign, and realize just how far this city has come in such a short time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

It's Post 107!!!

It's the best number ever...

Playing Catchup - The MLS Rally last Saturday was truly inspiring, and I've captured some videos from the event, and some pictures as well. The pictures are not only from the rally, but some of the sign work from Friday night. I loved being a part of something that contained so much energy, so much passion, and it was all home grown support from our group. We did have some cameras about, and a few bloggers that followed us along, but the atmosphere was all ours. There was no sponsorship from the team, it was all us. And while it didn't matter that it was a Saturday and the City Council wasn't around, it was still over 300 voices meeting at a place, sharing their dreams, and making a statement. Democracy may have its faults, but when it is at its purest form like this, it's truly moving.

Since then - The task force to study the MLS proposal voted 18 to 0 to pass the measure, with some stipulation about the positive recommendation. There are 11 things that the task force wants considered, but the task force was unanimous in supporting this initiative. The City Council will be talking about the issue next Wednesday, and putting it up for a vote to support the continuing of the plan.

The past week has been spent sending letters and emails to various city councilors, reading various blog posts and commenting, and putting together information to support the positive position on MLS. It hasn't been without challenges, because every article is met with comments to the negatives, matching my last blog post. I get the people being scared, but at the same time, it's a matter of deciding to do something because doing nothing makes no sense, or doing nothing hoping things will get better. I think the proactive approach is a better plan, and I'm not alone. But with the positive voices come the negative ones, backed with whatever facts they've managed to piece meal together to support their point.

Although if you read today's paper, it appears there are some snags in the process. This isn't unusual for something with this much money being thrown about in a situation like what we are experiencing right now. We've all tried to buy a car and walked away, or went to the store and they didn't have what we were looking for, so you left, and I view this simply as part of the negotiation process. I think everyone understands the stakes here, and why it's important to keep talking or walk away and take a moment to look at things with a new perspective. In my own experience, girl and I went car shopping after her Taurus started having issues. We spent a couple of hours at a Subaru dealership close into town, looking at another Taurus, and we had a great test drive. The negotiations came up, and the game changed, as girl and I really didn't want to over pay for the car, so we left. A few days later, we went to Tonkin on 122nd, and while they didn't have the car we wanted anymore, we found another deal that turned out to be the Row N mobile. Sometimes, part of the negotiations is knowing the strategy and doing the best ploy. We'll know more on Wednesday.

Midweek Distraction - I was able to get to the Trail Blazers game on Wednesday versus Indiana, which was a pure nail biting experience, as we almost gave away the game to the Pacers, and let their guards to the rim all night. In the end, it was too much Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and we pulled out a two point win.

While the game was fun there, it was also good because my bowling team, the Gutter Punks, were there because of winning some game tickets during our league bowling. We've been bowling on Tuesdays in the Big Turkey Bowling league for years, and while we've come in second place once and third place overall twice, we mostly bowl for the prizes, drinks and bonding with friends. Our team has changed a bit over the years, from the days when S3K bowled since the beginnings, and I bowled with the old Bourbon Crew. Girl was an original Gutter Punk, who was then joined by graceless, KC, and S3K when the teams combined. Hornman came along later, and then we got NickyD, and we were set. Fenrus joined us after a while, and we had our 8, and while we miss KC terribly, we know she's happy in Pittsburgh, and still keeping tabs on us. Hornman's honey finally joined us this season, and so we're back to 8 again. While we are taking a slight break from bowling, we still hang out all the time because we enjoy each other's friendship. I've never met such a great group of people, and I'm proud to call them my friends. So being able to hang out with them and catch a game was truly fun.

You can check out the pics, and I can at least say that I finally got to make a free throw, so I'm officially 1 for 5 in free throw shooting at the Garden. Well, and considering that of our Underdog group of shooters, there was only 3 free throws made all night, I was in select company. But it was also what I needed, because with everything going on right now, it's just nice to be with people that care about you and you want to be around.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I'm A Zombie. And I Want Soccer!!!

I’m fucking tired right now. Seriously, I feel like a walking zombie. Ok, most of the reason for this is the change in schedule that girl and I took on this week, by moving our regularly attempted gym trip and move it from evenings to very early mornings. So at 5:00 AM each morning, we get up, get dressed in our gym clothes, and trudge off to the gym to work out, then I head off to work while she starts her home-based job. My first day on Monday was rather easy to get up and get going, but today being day number two, I was struggling between wanting to go work out and falling back asleep for a few more hours. As I wandered about the house, I think glorified zombie would be a good description for my condition, but by the time I am writing this, I seem to be doing much better. It’s an adjustment, but not one that can’t be made if you put your mind to it and be open to the change. Humans are amazing, in the sense that while we are creatures of habit for many things, we also have the ability to alter habits with some effort and luck if that is desired. Change is easier for some people than others, mostly depending on a person’s mental attitude towards different things.

And I haven’t always been that adaptable, as living by myself for many years will reinforce some habits that become extremely annoying when you move in with someone. Living as a single person alone, you don’t have to answer to anyone except for your tolerance for certain behaviours, which will cause you to look at things in your home and cause either no ill effects or a reaction to recoil in horror. I was a stickler for putting clothes away living in a studio apartment due to the limited room, but I didn’t care so much for doing dishes, which was a habit I had to break when suddenly you have your future wife and their family about, amongst others. But, it’s possible to do that if you want it and put forth the effort.

Instead, many people cling tenaciously to the things they know or the habits that find them comfort, and I still have some that I need to address. But, my segment here is relating to a lot of the commentary going on about MLS to Portland from the people on the opposing side. For many people who abhor this idea, it’s easy to fall back on the tried and true objections to anything new – “We don’t have the money”, “I don’t want my money to fund this waste of time” or “We should fund schools before sports.” There are some other objections, but the three listed above encompass about 85% of the naysayers against MLS. For them, it’s easier to stick with the status quo, because the alternative is too risky, too scary, or requires too much effort or risk to pursue. The benefits might not be immediately evident to them, or it’s a matter that the benefits don’t mean anything to them so it’s a bad idea, and they want to share their opinions to anyone that will listen. And with the Interwebs everywhere and readily available, it’s easy to share thoughts completely anonymously on any available outlet.

I can appreciate a good discourse as much as anyone, and I can respect a different opinion if the rationale behind it is solid, but many of the dissenting opinions against MLS are the same arguments that come up when any major expenditure of funds is proposed for the city noted above. It’s hard to have an intelligent conversation to try and clear up misconceptions or share information in an Interweb world, where identities can be created and deleted at a key stroke. And granted, I realize that even I’m playing on a slippery slope here by using my blog to speak about things I want, yet hiding things in a somewhat veiled existence. My issues with keeping things secret have to do with avoiding any potential hassles with my employer, and not overly involving my friends and family in my endeavors too directly without asking them every time I write about them. I’m not worried for my job, but at the same time, I want what I say to represent my opinions without too much influence one way or another. So for now, I post in some secrecy, but honestly, as we read in the news almost daily, how much secrecy does anyone have in posting things on the Internet anyway?

But the point of not having a true place to do point and counterpoint discussion about topics makes fact sharing difficult, and so many discourses turn into a battle of semantics, played by picking apart what you can and placing doubt in the reader’s mind. It’s much like our legal system, which has gone from “what you can and can’t prove” to “let’s place a doubt by finding anything to refute, even if it’s reaching”. Reasonable doubt is a truly powerful concept, but at the same point, it’s really taken the shades of grey and made them more pronounced and apparent. And if you really tried hard to go onto websites and forums to make a point about something, it ends up being nearly a full time job, trying to keep up and address every single point.

I could do a list of all the most common arguments for MLS coming here, and a simple refutation to each one easily, but I can’t guarantee it would reach everyone nor would it change the minds of certain people, who have already determined it’s a waste of time without really understanding the opportunity here.

  • “Soccer is boring” – Ok, I could go easy here and use the “You don’t understand it” argument, but that’s like using “Your Mom” as a retort for an insult. Soccer is an incredibly easy to understand as you get the ball in the net, yet an incredibly difficult game to comprehend because of the differing strategies to get the ball into the net. But seriously, what’s not to like about a sport where most games are done within 2 hours, and you don’t have a lot of lag time with substitutions.
  • “The rules don’t make sense” – Well, the rules for the most part are simple, but it does leave a lot of room for interpretation. However, just like football and basketball, there are fouls in soccer only if the official calls them. And yes, just like other sports, there’s a lot of controversy when things get called that probably shouldn’t have or things don’t get called when they should. If you like sports, you’ll understand this.
  • “Why should my tax dollars go towards a stadium that’s already been fixed up” – Well, it’s not really tax dollars, as the money that goes towards the stadium comes from the people that use it or the people that buy tickets to go to events there. Any revenues from PGE Park go into the Spectator Stadium fund, which is then used to pay for operations of each facility. The bonds will be issued against the security of this fund, plus pledges from the team to make additional payments from the merchandise and concession revenues, tax from player salaries, and other income streams. And the last refurbishment, while it did make some major cosmetic changes mostly fixed the seismic structure of PGE Park so that it could withstand an earthquake or other natural disaster. We got volcanoes around here, you know.
  • “Why take money away from other things to pay for this, like schools?” – This plan doesn’t take money away from any public service, like police or schools, because it’s a different fund. The rules say the stadium revenue goes into the stadium fund, so you can’t use the stadium revenue to pay for anything else, and if you did add structures to the tax base, it’s possible to affect things positively so that more tax collection could be made from improved neighborhoods.
  • “85 million is a lot of money to spend on this” - Yes, that is a lot of money, more than I will see in my lifetime, but it’s small in comparison for other stadium efforts if say you wanted to go after Major League Baseball or the NFL. The Rose Garden itself was built with a near $200 million dollar price tag. But this investment gets you a refurbished PGE Park, a brand new baseball stadium, and an owner who is personally guaranteeing the bonds and is committed to keeping the teams here.
  • “But I like things the way they are now.” - And yes, it’s very good now. But the issues here are the stability of the USL, and the current lease for the Timbers and Beavers, which expires in 2010. The USL has lost teams in California, Virginia Beach, Calgary and Edmonton over the past 5 years, while Atlanta has suspended operations for a year. There are issues whether Division One will be able to stay together, especially since one former Division One team, Seattle, is moving up to MLS, and two of the other Division One teams are vying to move up, Portland and Vancouver. If one team gets in and the other doesn’t, you have an isolated franchise which spells murder. Plus, if the stadium changes don’t pan out, Mr. Paulson could consider bids from other cities to move his team. And if you think that won’t happen, just recall the previous version of the Portland Beavers, who were lured to Salt Lake City for promises of a new stadium and 500 pounds of candy. We run the risk of going from having two teams, to having none and a stadium that has no tenants.
  • “Aren’t we paying on the old stadium debt?” – Well, the people that use PGE Park are, courtesy of the Spectator Fund I mentioned previously, but Mr. Paulson has agreed to help pay off the debt as a sign of good faith. Yes, he didn’t create the situation, but he’s trying to correct it.
  • “I want MLB or NFL” – And I think a lot of us would like that too, but figure that the cost of a new park for either team would run you about $300 to $500 million (based on estimates from new parks built around the country), and that doesn’t include the cost of the team. Plus, MLB is 81 home games, requiring an average of 20,000 people each game to generate enough revenue to pay for the park, and NFL requires an average attendance of 2 to 3 times as much for only 10 home games with more expensive tickets. People may balk at an average ticket price of $22 for MLS, but MLB and NFL that and more for their average tickets. As much as I love the city, I don’t think we could support either one, plus there’s the Seattle factor. Both their MLB and NFL franchises consider Portland as part of their home market, so bringing a team would affect their bottom line for tickets and TV dollars, so there would be a cost to work out any territorial restrictions.
  • “Is MLS a major sport, I don’t think so” – MLS has been around for over 10 years, and they’ve taken a very responsible approach to expansion and salary growth. While only three current teams make money, the others are addressing problems with working out stadium deals and firming up other revenue streams. MLS has seen steady attendance gains, while gaining exposure with a national TV contract on ESPN. Granted, there are other soccer leagues with better talent, but MLS is starting to attract new international talent each year, as players see it as an attractive alternative.
  • “If this is such a good idea, why not pay for it privately?” – Many cities have wanted to retain control of their sports teams as much as they can, to keep control of the revenue or facility, so many towns work out a public-private relationship with the team, whereby both sides share revenue. That’s the case with PGE Park, as Mr. Paulson asked to buy the park and refurbish it a while back, but the city wanted to keep control of it. And after the previous situation with PFE, I can see why this might be a concern. And so you would now ask someone who is renting a publicly owned facility to pay for its upgrade with private money, without seeing any real benefit? No, most owners asked to do that would build their own park to regain control or move elsewhere, because most cities wouldn’t give a discount on work like that. This deal makes sure that the city continues to get revenue from the stadiums, while paying for the renovation that will ensure the Timbers and Beavers remain in Portland indefinitely with the backing of the owner in case something goes wrong. The risk is minimal.
  • “There’s risk here” – Sure, and there’s risk in getting up in the morning that you might be struck by lightning, meet your true love, win the lottery, or find spare change in your couch, but most of us all do the above things because the risk is minimal. The thing is the risk here is small because the bonds are backed by Mr. Paulson and his family backing the bonds personally, even if projections don’t meet what they expect.
  • “We can’t support this for ticket sales” – Well, if you look at the numbers for the current USL Timbers, we average about 8,800 fans for the past year, which has been steadily increasing each year. However, the team has seen crowds of over 15,000 for some league games and most exhibition matches, where a concentrated marketing effort is put into place. I would imagine this same approach would be enacted for MLS if they come to town.
  • “Why wouldn’t we just go to Seattle to see MLS?” – Anyone who knows the Flounder – Timbers rivalry would understand why most Timber fans will avoid that situation like the plague unless absolutely necessary. Soccer fans here want to avoid the situation of having another Seattle sports team shoved down our throats into liking, instead having a team of our own to represent.
And as I read through the questions, I’m sure there are some I missed, which is the whole thought of an intelligent discourse is so difficult. So, it’s a matter of sharing what you can where you can to whatever audience you can to share information, and see what happens. The thing is, even if all the above questions and the answers are enough to convince the city to support the MLS bid, there’s dozens of questions after that about the future. Right now, it’s important to focus on the here and now, and that means deciding if we want to bring top level American soccer to town now, or if we want to leave things as they are, hoping for another chance in the future. For me, the time is now to pursue the dream, and we should bring MLS to Portland.

Light reading About MLS:

Soccer By Ives - Vancouver is the front runner for MLS now that Miami is officially bye bye.

The Portland Trail Blazers weigh in on future plans for Memorial Coliseum. They'd love to have the Rose Quarter filled nearly year around, and if the MC becomes the potential home for baseball, I'd imagine them getting involved in design ideas to renovate that entire area.

One blogger from Canada is calling the race already for the Pacific Northwest.

The Mercury's Matt Davis weighs in on the situation, and learns a few things, although I suspect he's still undecided.

Draft of the MLS proposal, and some comments from Oregonlive's Ryan White.

A guest piece also on OregonLive on why MLS won't work, but potentially a hotel near the convention center will. For a person that supposed wants to bring sports events to Portland, he doesn't seem to understand much about soccer and its popularity here.