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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Tale of the Tape - Washington D.C. vs. Portland
How do DC and Portland stack up in the fight for Les Expos?
With all the furor of Pete Rose and his quixotic quest to ruin the Reds again, something seems to have missed Allan H. “Bud” Selig’s attention: the plight of baseball’s orphaned sons, the Montreal Expos.
A little background, in the February 2002, then-Expos owner Jeff Loria sold the club to baseball’s 29 other clubs for $120 million, money used to buy the Florida Marlins and helping John Henry escape for Boston (but that’s a wholly different scam). Since that time, Selig and his right-hand man, Bob DuPuy, MLB president and chief operating officer, have told anyone who will listen they are trying to sell the team.
At this time, there are five possible destinations for some or all of the Expos’ 81 “home” games next season: Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; Montreal; San Juan, P.R. and newcomer Monterrey, Mexico.
Discounting Montreal, which the Expos seem destined to leave someday, and the other non-U.S. cities, which many don’t see as viable major league cities yet, that leaves us with two candidates: Washington and Portland.
Washington and Portland. Portland and Washington.
Both cities have groups actively wooing the Lords of Baseball with some manner of publicly financed stadium, so I’ll leave those examinations to the politicians and architects. The question MLB should be looking at is not what city can we pillage for the best sweetheart deal, but where would major league baseball have the best chance of succeeding?
For that, let’s go to the tale of the tape.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the Washington metropolitan area (which by the Census Bureau’s definition includes Baltimore, the suburban/95 corridor, Northern Virginia and portions of West Virginia) is home to 7,608,070 people, fourth largest in the country. The Portland metro area (which includes Salem) is home to 2,265,223 million residents. Even accounting for the presence of the Baltimore Orioles, the DC area is nearly three times as large as Portland.
Washington’s population fits it nicely with Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and Dallas (+/- 2 million residents). Portland compares better to smaller major league cities like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis and others; but it compares most favorably to current minor league cities like Sacramento, Orlando, Indianapolis and San Antonio. —Advantage DC
In order to turn those residents into paying customers, they need cash. In Washington, the median household income is $41,189. Portland’s median income is $39,928.—Slight advantage DC
Now that the fan base has income, they have to become paying customers, so how well do fans in Portland and DC support their teams?
Portland only has one major professional franchise, the NBA’s Trailblazers. Comparing the Blazers to Washington’s Wizards in their most recent seasons shows that the two teams post nearly identical attendance figures.
PORTLAND 796,258 Total 19,420 Average 97.2%
WASHINGTON 827,093 Total 20,173 Average 97.6%
It should be noted that for years, Portland has been one of the NBA’s best attended franchises, while before the arrival of a former Birmingham Baron in the 2001-2002 season, the Wizards/Bullets franchise have not drawn exceptionally well.
In terms of baseball, Portland is currently home to the Portland Beavers, the Pacific Coast League affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The Beavers are currently seventh (out of 16 teams) in attendance in the PCL with a total of 345,489 fans passing through the turnstiles to date. Looking at average attendance, the Beavers drop to eighth, bring in a mean total of 5,856 per home date so far in 2003. In the actual standings, the Beavers are 60-65 in the PCL’s North Division. Despite this, they are just a game-and-a-half out of first.
The Washington area is host to two other teams besides the Orioles: the Double-A Bowie Baysox (Baltimore) and the Single-A Potomac Cannons (Cincinnati). Right now, Bowie has drawn an average of 4,731 per game for a season total of 260,184 to date. The Baysox sit at 61-62 this year, 16 games behind the first-place Akron Aeros. Bowie ranks sixth of 12 in both per game average and total attendance.
Potomac is averaging 2,580 per game for a total of 136,761. Those totals are good for sixth in the eight-team Carolina League. The team is currently in last place in the CL’s Northern Division with a second-half record of 24-27, five-and-a-half games out.
Baltimore is drawing an average of 31,024 to Camden Yards, good for 11th in MLB. The Birds’ total of 1,799,434 is 13th in the majors so far this year. The O’s are in fourth place in the AL East 14.5 games behind the Yankees with a 57-62 record.
What does all this data tell us? On its face, not much, since we don’t know much about the existing loyalties of fans in the DC area, or the desire of fans in Portland to come out for major league baseball. However, just assuming that attendance for all baseball teams in the DC area drops 20%, with those fans going to Senators or Federals games, the DC Expos would start off with about 7,700 paying customers for baseball, already more than the Beavers are pulling in, without the benefit of including fans that currently do not travel to Baltimore or the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to watch baseball.—advantage DC
While it?s unlikely either of these cities will see major league action in 2004, DC has put forth several proposed sites for a new baseball-only facility, with RFK Stadium being used in the interim. Portland’s baseball group lists seven potential sites, and proposes using the Beavers home of PGE Park as the interim home of the new team.
Built in the early 1900s, PGE Park was renovated in 2001 at a cost of $38.5 million. The multi-use facility houses the Beavers, Portland State University football, Portland Timbers soccer, as well as other events, including the 2003 Women?s World Cup. The park holds just under 20,000 for baseball games.
From 1962 to 1971, RFK Stadium played host to major league baseball, in the form of the second version of the Washington Senators in the modern era. When the Sens departed for Arlington, the stadium located in southeast Washington held 45,016 fans for baseball. The park is also a multiuse stadium now, hosting concerts and MLS and WUSA professional soccer.
Owing to its sheer size and its major league roots, once again Washington wins the round. Slight advantage, DC.
Aside from paying fans, baseball seeks to profit from corporate sales of boxes and prime seats to major corporations. In Portland, Nike Inc. is the 600-pound gorilla, with Columbia Sportswear Co., Hollywood Entertainment Corp. and Tektronix Inc. also ranking highly. (Portland’s Top 50 Businesses)
Washington, setting aside the thousands and thousands of government employees keeping the nation moving (or not moving, as the case may be), is home to MCI Corp., the headquarters of the AOL division of AOL-Time Warner and media firm Gannett Corp. Additionally, there are numerous high-powered lobbying firms, corporate offices and other businesses whose sole existence is to influence government—often times in the context of going out to games, dinners or drinks.—Advantage DC
Taking into account all of these factors, while Portland seems to be a fine town, and I’m sure it?s a great place to live. At this point, major league baseball appears to have the best chance of succeeding in the nation’s capital.
Epilogue: DuPuy said last week, after the Rose incident, that MLB hopes to make a decision on the fate of the Expos for 2004 by September. The Major League Baseball Players Association has come out strongly against a split schedule like the club played this year, so a repeat of the Montreal/San Juan adventure seems unlikely. In addition, the 14 former minority partners of the Expos filed suit against MLB and Loria earlier this year alleging several levels of scams by both parties. The group has also announced plans to file an injunction to keep the Expos in Montreal if MLB decides to move them. MLB must give 90 days’ notice to the group before attempting relocation. (The Oregonian, Stadium’s support takes hit in committee - 08/06/03)
Citations: Minor league attendance data and standings taken from www.minorleaguebaseball.com. Major league attendance date and standings taken from ESPN.com. NBA attendance data taken from ESPN.com. Census bureau information can be found at www.census.gov.
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