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.

1 comment:

devlyn said...

Fantastically well thought out and put together post, GK. Now I can send naysayers your direction instead of remembering all the details myself. ^_^