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Economics and politics of Portland baseball

September 13, 2010

By Patrick Emerson
Oregon Economics Blog

The family decided to spend Labor Day at PGE Park attending the latest of the Beavers farewell season closers.  Absolutely picture perfect weather and an entertaining game: it was great.  For the first time in recent memory, the crowd was actually paying attention to the game and it was a very entertaining one as well: lots of lead changes and home runs an even a nail-biting finish.  It was a great day.

The Oregonian has been a bit overwrought about the Beavers leaving – too much so I feel.  Editorials about how it is a failure of leadership by the city government, a column by John Canzano (who hardly ever even bothers to mention the Beavers in his column), ever the opportunist, calling out Sam Adams, and a long series of farewell pieces all graces the pages recently.

But why all the hand wringing and fuss?  This is not the same baseball team that was here until 1993, and no one remembers the Portland Rockies (Rockies, really, couldn’t that have at least called themselves the Cascades?  Salt Lake City Bees (né Buzz) anyone?  Yep, those are the old Beavers.  It is also not the last team that will play baseball in Portland.  Portland is the biggest non-baseball market in the country, there will be something.

But the fact is that baseball at Civic Stadium is no longer viable (as PGEs naming rights deal is expiring, I am choosing to call it by its old moniker).  This is something people don’t seem to get. 2,000 people showing up for a game in a 16,000 seat stadium is not a winning proposition.  When people grumble about soccer displacing baseball, they should be happy that an economically viable use for Civic Stadium has been found and that the wonderful old stadium shall have a new life.

I think the economics of pro sports are clear in this case.  Minor league baseball is now a niche sport – a small but loyal fan base will support it but it does not have broad appeal.  It is not MLB: the media saturation of top level pro sports has given people everywhere front row seats to MLB games, made the stars household names, and I believe has lowered the demand for minor league baseball, at least in cities like Portland, where the team no longer has that community embrace that comes from a sense of ownership.  Now with free agency and mass player movement, the team doesn’t even feel like part of some larger family, just a way station for players on the way up or down.

My demand for the Beavers is typical I think, I go a few times a year to spend some time on nice summer evenings chatting with friends, casually following the action and generally enjoying Portland summers.  I don’t really go because I am a fan of the team.

[As an aside, even if the demand for the Beavers was like yesterday, the poor old Stadium could not handle it: concession lines were unbelievable]

Anyway, there will be a day soon, when someone – possibly even Meritt Paulson – figures out how to build a small stadium in town and baseball returns.  I don’t really think it matters if it is triple-A or something lower.  And it will again be a place to spend warm Portland evenings. Until then I think we should stop the histrionics.

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Discuss this article

Bob Clark September 13, 2010

I think major leaque soccer is probably a money loser for the stadium as well given it required PGE park to throw out baseball both professional and school based. There’s only about 14 home games or so for soccer versus over 50 for Triple A baseball. Portland cityhall hasn’t even paid off the last renovation it made of PGE park and here it is again probably falling prey to another marginal at best public dollar investment. Any monies made in professional sports is not the stadium or even team operations, but in the resale of the franchise. Portland cityhall should have gotten a slice of any franchise resale capital gain for its new investment in PGE park, but I doubt very much it made such a provision.

Bud September 13, 2010

Just wondering if anything could have been done. I thought the Beavers were popular.

Bad Man September 13, 2010

AAA Baseball has failed in Portland for three reasons:
1) Seattle Mariners play MLB baseball and the games are only a three hour car trip away from Portland. They play in a stadium with a roof; so there are never any rained out games.
2) Beavers had poor to non-existent marketing in the Portland area. When was the last time you saw a local print or TV ad for the team in the last twelve months?
3) Portland has crappy weather for baseball. April, May and much of June are a crapshoot when it comes to dry weather. Consider the fact that Reno, Fresno and Sacramento all have decent attendance for AAA games – in large part because they ARE PROMOTED THERE and have nice warm, dry climates where IT’S ENJOYABLE TO SEE BASEBALL!

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