Portland Has a MLB Stadium Site

On the heels of stadium disputes erupting in Arizona, Seattle, and Anaheim, at least one American city is moving forward with plans to woo a major league club, whether it be an existing team or an expansion one. As ESPN reported:

A group seeking to lure a Major League Baseball team to Portland announced that it has signed an agreement in principle to develop a 45-acre waterfront site.

The agreement with the Port of Portland was announced Thursday by the Portland Diamond Project. The group also released artist renderings of a new ballpark at the port’s Terminal 2.

You can see the Portland Diamond Project’s statement here.

“We believe this has the potential to be a transformative landmark project for this city,” [PDP Founder and President Craig] Cheek said. “Building an iconic, state-of-the-art ballpark along the Willamette River will catalyze economic development and capture great views of both the urban scale of the city and regional character of the Pacific Northwest.”

This letter of intent with the Port kicks off a collaborative process with the City of Portland, and local communities, to create a Major League Baseball ballpark and community destination.

“We’re committed to building a sustainable, equitable, and accessible ballpark that reflects what makes Portland such a special place to live,” Cheek said. “That means outstanding locally sourced food and beverage amenities, environmentally sustainable construction and operations, opportunities for makers and small businesses, and an atmosphere that celebrates diversity and inclusion and is welcoming to all Portlanders.”

The renderings show a beautiful 30,000 seat ballpark.


So how likely is this to actually happen? Well, on the one hand, Portland would be building a stadium with no team yet, so there’s a bit of a “Field of Dreams” element here: if you build it, will they come?

That said, it’s entirely possible that, in this case, someone will. Why? First, the Portland Diamond Project has real money behind it, with noted singer and model Ciara Harris and her husband, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback and noted baseball fan Russell Wilson, among the more notable investors in the project (each invested separately). And both seem particularly enthused about the possibility of bringing a big league team to Portland.

Second, Portland’s municipal government has already voiced at least some willingness to partially fund the project.

“And I see this as a huge economic opportunity as I’ve said, it’s an opportunity to build a central city neighborhood from scratch and to do it right,” [Portland Mayor Ted] Wheeler said.

“And so it’s a very compelling vision. It’s an exciting opportunity,” he added.

Because of that, taxpayers will help make the development happen if things get that far.

“It would be very naive to assume there will be no public contribution. In any large scale economic development strategy in any urban development we do, tax increment financing comes in to play,” said Wheeler.

And third, Major League Baseball has long looked at Portland as the logical location for a big league club.

In an appearance on FS1’s First Things First, Manfred mentioned six potential expansion cities and explained that the addition of new teams would also lead to division and playoff realignment. Manfred elaborated that MLB has a “real list of cities, that I think are not only interested in having baseball, but are viable in terms of baseball.”

“Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada,” Manfred said. “We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.”

The Diamond Project believes a Portland ballpark could be ready for first pitch as soon as 2022. Now, there is one minor hiccup: Portland doesn’t have a team yet. And while expansion is a possibility, there’s also no guarantee it will happen any time soon. So let’s examine another potential route to filling Portland’s new ballpark: a current team moving.

I should say up front that while all of the teams I’m about to discuss face varying degrees of uncertainty surrounding the location of their home parks going forward, none have expressed an affirmative desire to leave the general geographic areas in which they currently play. This is a bit of speculation on my part. But the emergence of Portland as a viable major league city could change the calculus around that decision, just as it might serve as a new point of leverage in their existing markets, and there are three teams that could potentially fit the bill. First is the Tampa Bay Rays, who are actively looking for a new ballpark and have encountered a few obstacles in their quest to build a new ballpark in Ybor City. Still, Commissioner Manfred remains optimistic that the team will remain in Florida, so we can probably cross them off the list.

Then we come to the Angels, who opted out of their lease earlier this year. The Angels’ lease now ends after 2019, which means their timing would line up nicely with the opening of Portland’s ballpark after a short extension. This is made somewhat more plausible by the team’s continued inability to get a municipality to agree to fund a new stadium, and the fact that the team has begun appraising Angels Stadium and the land on which it sits in preparation for a potential move. But the Angels are still an imperfect fit, if only because it’s possible Anaheim wouldn’t agree to a three-year lease knowing the franchise is departing anyway. Moreover, leaving California would mean the Angels giving up their rights to a long-term television deal that pays the team in excess of $100 million per year. So whether the Angels elect to move could come down to what they value more: a publicly-funded stadium, or a lucrative television deal. (This may be why some press reports at the time of the opt out suggested that if a move came, it would be within Southern California.)

That leaves one other team that might be a possibility for Portland: the Arizona DiamondbacksWe’ve talked before about the Diamondbacks’ uneasy relationship with Maricopa County, which culminated in a lawsuit settled earlier this year:

But it’s not at all clear that Phoenix will pony up to pay for a billion-dollar ballpark that critics said wasn’t even necessary. So if the city won’t pay, the county won’t pay, and the team won’t pay, that just leaves a Native American tribe if the team were built on tribal land like the Snakes’ spring-training facility is. Either that, or nobody does, and that means that the team might end up looking out of state.

Portland offers the Diamondbacks everything they want: a new stadium, public funding, and a new, hungry fanbase (though with few of the team’s namesakes to be found in Oregon, presumably a rebranding would be in order). And there’s more:

Under the [settlement agreement], if the Diamondbacks found a new location in Maricopa County, the team could leave Chase Field without penalty in 2022, five years earlier than the team’s current contract.

But that’s not entirely accurate. Paragraph 19 of the settlement agreement actually lets the team move out of state without penalty in 2022 if Major League Baseball were to decide, in its sole discretion, that the team had to depart Chase Field. And local tribes haven’t exactly been lining up to fund a stadium on tribal land, particularly given that the team would receive no tax benefits from building there. In fact, one municipal government official, in response to the Diamondbacks’ overtures, told team owner Ken Kendrick to “take your stupid baseball team and get out [of Arizona],” recommending the team go to West Virginia.

Now, it’s still likely that an expansion team ends up filling Portland’s new ballpark, just as it’s possible that, despite investors’ current enthusiasm, a ballpark and team never materialize there at all. But it’s not out of the question that an existing team could make a move to the west coast. Portland is preparing to build a brand new stadium. We just have to wait and see who comes.

We hoped you liked reading Portland Has a MLB Stadium Site by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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srpst23
Member
srpst23

On the expansion side, does MLB really want another small market club? Because that’s what Portland, or any other mentioned city would be. Currently Portland is the 25th largest MSA in the US, just barely eeking out Pittsburgh. While the two regions are obviously going in different directions population-wise, does MLB really need another Pittsburgh Pirate’s sized media market?

On the other hand, MLB hasn’t expanded in forever. Currently there are approximately 329,000,000 folks in the US for the 30 teams, or about 11 million people per team (obviously not distributed even remotely evenly). That has to be the highest it’s been in a while, if not ever.

Johnnie T
Member
Johnnie T

Agreed — right now, the crop of candidate cities are pretty unimpressive demographically. However, in maybe a decade, these places might get big enough where they would be at least mid-market.

In some ways, I think that the threat is on the other end — there are a number of demographically stagnant small markets like Milwaukee and Cincinnati that are marginal now and only look to get less viable as time goes on. Baseball might have to relocate more than expand.

whiptydojoe
Member
whiptydojoe

You guys knocking the ‘small market’ clubs, especially the dude that hypothesized annexing Cincinnati & Milwaukee, can’t just look at some of these numbers and say, “Voila–success!”

Miami/Florida is a Top 15, easily Top 20 city and the highest attendance they’ve ever had is 18th. This is with multiple WS and multiple ownership groups.

Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg–similar story as the 5th biggest media market. Getting into (or keeping) the right situation, locally and for the league, is more important than just looking at a media market and saying, “Yeah, it’ll work.”

emh1969
Member
emh1969

I’d add….as a fan of a small-market team, given the choice between having and not having a team, there’s really no choice at all. I’m definitely going with having a team. I’m sure baseball fans in Portland feel exactly the same.

Red
Member
Member

There is a choice: it’s whatever else you could build or attempt to accomplish in the city with whatever the publicly financed portion of a stadium ends up totaling.

If private enterprise has to put its own, and only its own, money up for the privilege of having its brand appreciate by hundreds of millions in value by the time they sell, then hell yeah, why NOT have a team?

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

The problem is that “baseball fans in Portland” is a veeeeery small group of people.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

I assume you are speaking from a position of knowledge? I can’t imagine that you are. If you are a Portlandian and haven’t met any baseball fans, then I am not sure what you are doing. Head out to a Hillsboro Hops game – you are sure to meet a few there. Baseballism was founded there. There are fans. Maybe you are basing your perception on Portlandia, which is a real thing too. Fans in the Northwest are a pretty enthusiastic lot. They don’t need to be baseball fans to attend games.

dawgman23z
Member
dawgman23z

Ignorant comment, Portland has minor league ball and usd to have AAA ball, they have a college wood bat league, and sa real minor league teams in Oregon In General. Both major universities have very strong programs ( although I’m UW guy) with Beavers having 2 Nattys in books. So to say very small group is just baseless, I think you meant to say baseball fans in Miami is veeeeeeery small group, then numbers would back up your statement. Sorry Miami

Johnnie T
Member
Johnnie T

You are putting words into my mouth, @whip.

I am not knocking the small market clubs. I am just pointing out that as it is now, teams like KC and Cincy have a very hard time generating enough revenue to support winning teams. It happens every so often, but it takes a lot of luck and a lot of skill. MLB has done some things to reduce the gaps (international money caps, the competitive balance tax, etc), but as things go on, the gap will only get wider as places like Atlanta continue to grow while Milwaukee does not. Am I wrong here?

Also, I did not say that a mid-size market guarantees a successful franchise. Obviously it does not. But I would say, though, that it is very hard to have a consistently competitive franchise in a small market.

whiptydojoe
Member
whiptydojoe

@johnnie T, that’s a competitive balance issue, not an immediate expansion issue. No small market franchise or fan base would say, “Yep, everything is good–we can easily compete with the franchises in bigger markets.”

But you can’t fit 20 teams in 10 media markets, for one. And two, even big media markets have not attracted fans OR had recent success (White Sox, Baltimore, Detroit, Texas come to mind.)

martyvan90
Member
Member
martyvan90

whiptydojoe, In MLB, I do think competitive balance and expansion, or more accurately the number of teams are related. Baseball is essentially a regional sport, i.e. funded predominantly by regional revenue, unlike the NFL or to a lesser extent the NBA. For fans, it makes “competitive balance” tricky. Since local fans fund the sport ticket revenue (price x number) you have an inherent conflict between small market and large market fans. Large market, high prices for tickets and sports network, and smaller markets more affordability but less revenue and less competitive product unless the league actively intercedes. I’m not picking a side I’m just trying to frame the problem for fans in a somewhat objective manner.

dawgman23z
Member
dawgman23z

Counter by saying Oakland seems always be competitive it’s possible

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

Tampa Bay/St/ Petersburg is the 5th biggest media market? By what measure?

AJS
Member
AJS

Good point. Per Nielsen, Tampa is the 11th largest DMA — but still more than 1.5x the number of households in Portland, which is 22nd.

dawgman23z
Member
dawgman23z

Let’s use GDP
#12 Miami
#14 Detroit
#15 Minneapolis
#16 Phoenix
#17 San Diego
#20 Portland
#21 St Louis
#25 Pittsburgh
#26 Tampa
#28 Cleveland
#29 Cincinnati
#33 KC
#37 Milwaukee
Of hat last yoy can see Portland has money and plenty of corporations to buy suites, and of the list not many of those current teams have success, which more than likely is ownership issue tha s almost half of MLB. So yes Portland can support a team and with the right ownership could have a nice product on field, m mean come to n it’s nit like Seattle has hand much success at all since coming into league in late 70’s. And yes some these teams have had years where their good, it’s about managing, fans support winners

dl80
Member
dl80

In my opinion, Florida is never going to be viable for baseball. Too many residents are relocated from other areas where they are going to remain diehard fans of their home team no matter how good the local team is. Both teams should, and probably will, eventually move out of state.

Arizona actually faces much of the same problem.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Not to mention that much of Florida’s population doesn’t even live there during baseball season.

Flharfh
Member
Flharfh

To echo this, Milwaukee, the smallest market, was 10th in attendance last year, drawing far more than Miami and Tampa Bay combined. Market size means nothing if the residents aren’t fans.

Bret
Member
Bret

First time in almost 60 years.

1997 (last year with 28 teams): 9.6 million
1992 (26 teams): 9.8 million
1976 (24 teams): 9.1 million
1968 (20 teams): 10.0 million
1961 (18 teams): 10.2 million
1960 (16 teams): 11.3 million

Mike D
Member
Member
Mike D

BUT… less people (as a percentage of population) are watching baseball

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

That is true. They are also playing less. Owners are surely making more money than ever though.

websoulsurfer
Member
websoulsurfer

Nope. Less people are watching baseball on TV and live. The total number of people overall with TV, live, and streaming has increased.

PC1970
Member
PC1970

& there are only 29 teams in the US. Take out Toronto from 1976-on & Montreal from 1968-1994 & the #’s are skewed even higher than the 1960-61 #’s. Take out Toronto & it’s 12M per team currently.

aweb
Member
aweb

Or add in the 35 million pop in Canada (historically 10% of US is a good approximation) and it goes up even higher.

The only concern with market size is whether there is a TV deal to be had or not. I’d love another team in Canada again, but I doubt it happens. A lower bound estimate on how much the TV rights to the Blue Jays are actually worth (Rogers owns team, stadium, broadcast networks, etc.) would be great. By the end, Montreal couldn’t even get a TV deal, although after a decade+ of stories about what a terrible franchise/stadium/future the team had, it kinda’ seemed like intentional sabotage.

websoulsurfer
Member
websoulsurfer

Toronto would be the 4th or 5th largest TV market in the US. They should be able to spend big, but they are owned by a media company in Canada that suppresses the value of the broadcast rights.

BKJ
Member
BKJ

It’s reasonable to assume there is some amount of boosterism in everything he says, but is there a reason to assume Manfred is purely bluffing when he said he views Portland as a viable destination?

According to Wikipedia, it’s the 26th largest municipality and 25th largest metro area in the country. With 30 MLB clubs, and the #1, 2, 3 metro areas already doubled up (also #12, but less happily), the largest metros lacking teams are #13 Inland Empire CA, followed by #22 Charlotte, #23 Orlando, #24 San Antonio, and #25 Portland, all four of which are separated by less than 100,000 people.

If you were going purely by population numbers, you could make a case for adding a third New York team (20m/3 equals 6.66m, just a bit smaller than the Houston metro area). But the league clearly has an interest in geographic diversity, especially when it means expanding to states currently without a team.

And @whiptydojoe is right — team management, local buy in, and effective media deals are at least as important as population size. Having local celebrities and politicians on board before a team is even in place all seem to bode well.

Plus, baseball is old. Hipsters like old stuff.

Gus
Member
Gus

“Montreal is the largest city in Canada or the U.S. without an MLB team, and at just over 4 million people, the 15th-largest metropolitan area in North America.” – Source: https://montrealgazette.com/sports/baseball/opinion-new-economic-realities-make-montreal-a-viable-option-for-mlb

Tulo2low
Member
Tulo2low

The Portland MSA is 25th in population, but 20th in GDP. There are dollars to be spent.

websoulsurfer
Member
websoulsurfer

Neither of those matters. What matters is TV households or DMA. Google Nielsen DMA rankings.

mookie monster
Member
Member
mookie monster

I think part of the thinking must also be a lack of regional penetration. Portland itself may not be that big, but there is a helluva lot of the west coast between Seattle and SF that MLB is basically not even trying to reach right now.

Red
Member
Member

Great point – and it’s not just about the lack of an MLB team.

This October, I was in southern Oregon, but I was unable to find any divisional series games on radio except for COL/MIL (bizarre, as it was the least compelling matchup for a casual fan, presumably). That came out of Bend, OR, and the station picked high school football over playoff baseball on Fridays.

ALCS, NLCS and WS were a hodgepodge of flipping back and forth between static stations out of Seattle or Los Angeles. When a World Series game takes over seven hours, Mariachi band music cutting over color commentary keeps it fresh.

California is loaded with minor league baseball teams, but not north of the Bay Area. Small cities like Medford, OR, Redding, CA, and Chico, CA would seem to be capable of supporting a low minors affiliate. If an MLB team is 6-8 hours away and you can’t even find playoff games on the radio, it’s not going to do much for MLB to put minor league teams up and down the I-5 corridor, though.

frank
Member
Member
frank

Uhh, I think you can cross Chico off the list for a few years.

AJS
Member
AJS

There are MiLB teams up and down the I-5 corridor already. The Northwest League has teams in Eugene, Salem, Hillsboro, Everett (and Vancouver, BC).

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

There area few teams in Florida that have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that they can’t field a team. I am very much against expansion, but there isn’t any shortage of teams/owners that would jump at the opportunity to Loria a community of taxpayers. Given the number of tanking teams, I don’t see how you can be too serious about expansion. Ideally you would have enough talent for every team, but that doesn’t appear to be the reality. I don’t think it has much to do with population. Of the growing population, do you think more are playing baseball? I kinda doubt it.

PBCards
Member
PBCards

Tampa won 90 games last year

tonycpsu
Member
tonycpsu

The Pittsburgh comp is poor considering Pittsburgh has 3 teams in the 4 major leagues and Portland has just one. (Make that 3/5 and 2/5 if you want to count MLS among major leagues.)

I’m not saying there’s an equal amount of potential major league sports revenue per capita between the two (as a Pittsburgh resident and frequent visitor to Portland, I certainly can’t imagine anything close to the level of passion that Pirates, Penguins, and Steelers fans bring) but you have to think there’s a lot of untapped energy among non-soccer fans in Portland when the NBA season ends.

There are some better markets to target, but there are many worse ones.

Josh
Member
Member
Josh

“Eke out” means to fill out, to complete through a minor measure; as in, “to eke out a living by doing odd jobs.” One is making it most of the way on one’s salary, but must “eke out” the rest by odd jobs. It does not mean to beat out or surpass.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

the distribution of top league sports teams in the US by market is a. hilariously inefficient and b. probably intractable as long as there are “defectors” in terms of public funding for stadiums.

websoulsurfer
Member
websoulsurfer

The important thing is that Portland is the 22nd largest DMA. MSA is irrelevant, the TV market or DMA is important.

San Diego is a top 6 MSA, but the 28th largest DMA. THAT is what makes them a small market team.