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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.

Sean McNally Posted: August 27, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Sean McNally Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612773)
Hey all,

Most of you know me as SM in DC here, so maybe I could be a bit biased.

I look forward to any comments you all may have about my piece and my opinions.

SM in DC
   2. Eugene Freedman Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612775)
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.

Part of what may be attributed to Michael Jordan in restoring Buzzards to capacity has a bit to do with the move from a Prince George's County (the poorest directly neighboring county) site- the CapCenter to the MCI Arena right in the heart of downtown DC. The new site has MetroRail mass transit access on three train lines. [Red, which goes to both sides of Montgomery County (the richest Maryland County) and passes through much of the downtown area, including passing through Union Station DC's Amtrack station, Yellow, which passes from Northern Virginia through the southern part of the city to MCI Center, and Green, which begins in Prince George's County, passes through a lower-middle class area of DC, and then runs into another part of PG County.] There was no mass transit to the CapCenter. Due to its downtown location, the Caps and Buzzards have a lot of corporate seats, unlike CapCenter.

As a suburban Maryland resident I have several comments.

Northern Virginia is a better location for a team and would aleviate some of Angelos' issues. Traffic is a major concern. The Dulles area would be best from a land availability standpoint, but not from a ease of travel standpoint. It is most important to stay away from the mixing bowl area- where I-95, the Washington Beltway I-495, and I-395 all meet with 66 and some other roads. If placed in the Dulles area, a metro line would have to extend there, which it does not. Also, a bridge would have to be built spanning the river from Potomac Maryland to Virginia, so that the Mongtomery County residents could attend games bypassing the Beltway and Dulles Toll-Road.

An Alexandria stadium, although Metro accessable is nearly impossible, considering the limited road access and national security issues in and around the National Airport site.

Finallly, a downtown location is hard to imagine, unless it is in really bad area of the city. DC is very tight as it is, and was not originally designed for residents, only government. The roads cannot handle the commuter traffic already. Adding a stadium to the mix would be terrible.
   3. Jason Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612776)
"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."

Minor quibble, Puerto Rico is part of the United States. But I do agree that San Juan isn't seriously in the running.

Personally speaking, I hope they stay in Montreal. The Big O is awful, but I was just there the other night against Philly. They had a decent sized crowd for them (12,500), and the place was rockin' when the 'Spos came back from being down 8-0. I think they had 20,000 last night. And Montreal is a cool city, and hearing baseball announcements in French is something I never get tired of. And they have pretty good beer up there.
   4. WTM Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612779)
Nice article.

I have to say, though, the issue has never struck me as being whether DC is the best location for a team, but whether certain barriers--namely Peter Angelos and MLB's determination to rape and pillage--can be overcome. (I suppose I should add that I live in the MD suburbs and work in DC. I've never been much of a DC booster, but the proposed downtown site would be three blocks from my office, and I have a permit to park in the building--hehe.) It'd be nice to believe that factors such as population and household income would drive the decision, but I doubt that they'll be more than threshold considerations. Bud wants to know, "What's in your wallet?"

I don't think the city's history with MLB franchises is very relevant. The demographics have changed dramatically since then. Holding the earlier failures against the city would be like saying Portland can't possibly support a team because the Portland metro area had a population of 700,000 in 1950.

I also don't see the fanaticism of Redskins' fans as a troubling sign. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates have trouble drawing on Fridays and Saturdays in September because everybody is at the high school football games. My wife grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I've seen the football-to-the-exclusion-of-all-else mindset up close. I don't see that kind of extreme mindset in DC.
   5. Dudefella Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612780)
"August 28, 2003 - Realist


One HUGE number this article overlooked surprisingly are the TV ratings from Nielsen for Portland watching Mariners games, and DC watching Orioles games. This in the scheme of things, is all that really counts in the long run. The ratings for Mariners games in Portland are enormous. DC's Orioles games, I have no idea about, but I guarantee they are not as high."

One HUGE fact that your argument overlooked surprisingly is that the Mariners are a really, really good team, and the Orioles are a really, really bad team.
   6. Richie Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612785)
Instead of crying about trying to move the Expos to another city, but not really doing anything about it, (Angelos is an a$$...Washington actually wants the team, so MOVE It there) why doesn't MLB try to make the Expos a profitable team again?

Have the dynamics in Montreal changed?

The other night, I think I saw that the Expos had a large crowd (for them). Apparently there still are fans there. I seem to recall that the Expos were a very good drawing team back in the '80s. In 1989, they were a "buyer" at the trading deadline, trading away some prospect named Randy Johnson for Mark Langston, to make a run at the NL East that year. In 1994 they may have had the best team in baseball until the strike.

Couldn't MLB invest a little money to keep the team together, maybe try a little "marketing?" I know, marketing is a crazy idea. Maybe try getting a local TV deal. Even PAY a station to broadcast their games? Seems to me fans are there.

   7. Hatrack Hines Posted: August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612791)
The Major League exhibitions we've had at PGE Park have been absolutely mobbed since the Park reopened. That's gotta count for something.
   8. Toby Posted: August 29, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612795)
I live inside the Beltway in Silver Spring and work on Capitol Hill. I'll respectfully disagree with my fellow Cornellian, Eugene Freedman, and say that a Northern Virginia location would simply not work -- majorities in Alexandria and Arlington County have rampant NIMBYism as far as a new stadium is concerned, and the outer counties don't have viable public transit options. If you were to force a stadium into Alexandria or Arlington against the public will, there are probably sites along the Potomac that would be very good, perhaps even with a view of the river and the monuments.

In the District, the RFK site is a good one -- on the Metro and with good access to freeways. I also like the New York Avenue site just a stone's throw from Union Station. None of these sites are "great", mind you, just good.

I don't think there's any doubt that baseball would be hugely successful here. It would always take a back seat to the Redskins, but the same could be said of the Rockies in Denver, and they do just fine, don't they?
   9. WTM Posted: August 29, 2003 at 02:37 AM (#612798)
I can certainly identify with the notion that a DC team might draw fans of the visiting teams--my main interest would be getting to see the Pirates several times a year.

The New York Ave. site, which the city apparently favors pretty strongly, would be great for me, but it has some problems. The proposal is not to have any parking and to rely instead on mass transit. The lack of parking seems like it would be a huge drawback to suburbanites. And the area proposed for the ballpark is pretty dangerous. My office is in between the site and Union Station, two blocks north of the latter. We have to have a shuttle to the station for people who work late because it's too dangerous to walk from here.
   10. Dusty's Least Favorite Base-Clogger (Roy Hobbs) Posted: August 30, 2003 at 02:38 AM (#612811)
As a Portland resident and baseball fan, I've been following the stadium lobbyists' moves with a skeptical eye. And not for the demographic issues that your article addresses. Your analysis is fine, and I wouldn't suggest there's a better one (and definitely the industry-funded ones are more for comic relief than anything else).

But there are still many other things unknown in this type of comparative study. First, the minor league attendance figures are irrelevant. Different people will attend MLB than go to minor league games. My friends and I who attend AAA Beavers' games will only be able to afford to go to a fraction of the number of games that we now attend. Using coupons, etc., last weekend my wife and daughter and I got into PGE Park for a total of six dollars--it's hard to factor things like that into projections of big league attendance. (Also, the beer and peanuts are a lot cheaper at AAA PGE Park than the sushi is at Safeco.) The park will either be filled or not on a daily basis by the corporate types in Beaverton, Hillsboro and Clark County who now don't realize pro baseball exists here.

In D.C., people who would never consider going to a bush league game will purchase season tickets either to be seen or to use as "networking tools", or both. It's surprising how much influence can be bought for relatively small gifts and extravagantly large campaign "donations". (Right here in Oregon last week, 5 state senators "shockingly" changed their votes overnight to subsidize a stadium.) Perhaps a good name for a D.C. franchise would be the "Houston Oilmen." If they can so successfully pillage across the globe, then the NL East had better start finding bunkers pretty quickly. But, I digress.

Baseball culture? It's dwindling everywhere. The kids in Portland play soccer in the parks and god knows what the sons and daughters of congressman and senators do. Probably, country club sports, the Junior League or equestrian. If you're looking for traditional sports culture, I'd try Indianapolis. I believe the city itself is bigger than Portland and those Hoosiers are pround boosters of themselves. They seem to be envious of Ohio's big league status and have a chip on their shoulder for Chicago.

In the end, though, demographics will play a very little part in the decision. Bud Selig's relocation committee is comprised of some of the most ruthless, greedy, amoral, exploitative creeps this side of your local FOX affiliate. Don't get me started on Jerry Reinsdorf, I could fill cyberspace with expletives. Whoever gets a franchise will have to commit to redistributing its citizens' income from the middle and working classes to some rich bastard in the form of one or many regressive taxes. Already in Portland the public school system is rapidly becoming pay as you go, and I can imagine a day not far off when elementary and secondary education become a "choices" or "freedoms" to borrow terms of the new politcal/patriotic correctness.

For all of you D.C. backers, you may find it interesting to hear that the Portland's chief stadium lobbyist, that slick as a seal David Kahn, immediately started backpedaling as soon as he got the State Senate vote in his pocket. It sounds like all of a sudden, he's not even considering that MLB would move the Expos here. He's now talking about "other teams that may be in play within a few years." Perhaps, he knew something all along. Or perhaps, BudCo is spinning him.

Me, I'd pass on subsidizing a stadium in Portland (proposed name after our mayor..."The Katz Burden"). I rather stick with the AAA Beaver's and my Cubbies on radio and TV. I'll also get in a van once or twice a year with my friends and take a field trip to SafeCo.
   11. WTM Posted: August 30, 2003 at 02:38 AM (#612812)
"I believe the ethics rules say that government types can't accept any gift worth more than $50."

For employees of the executive branch, it's $20, including political appointees but excluding the President and Vice President. I don't know what it is for members of Congress and their staffs.

Regardless, I'm sure luxury boxes would be very popular with lobbyists. I'm also sure everybody will be comforted to know that the laws that govern them are being determined by which wealthy interest manages to spread around the most tickets when the Yankees are in town.

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