What Can Portland do to Bring A Second Big-League Franchise to Town?
Thursday, September 18, 2014
I asked why so many Portlanders support major-league teams from rival Seattle.
It seems the next logical question becomes: what can Portland do to bring a second big-league franchise to town? We’ve already got the NBA’s Trail Blazers.
But surely we can support one more.
First, let’s deal with which of the other three major sports leagues aren’t worth even trying to lure here.
"NFL 2 Portland"
Despite the good intentions of the “NFL 2 Portland” group, the National Football League is not relocating the Oakland Raiders or any other franchise here when the league still lacks a team in Los Angeles and there is no discernible groundswell of support in the Portland area – or money—to build an NFL stadium out of whole cloth.
And Major League Baseball League isn’t knocking down Portland’s doors, either. Sadly, the repeated demise of Triple-A franchises here doesn’t exactly lend itself to attracting a big-league team to Portland, especially when our city couldn’t even get its act together to build a Triple-A stadium.
So that leaves us with the National Hockey League, which happily presents a much more favorable set of circumstances given that Portland already has an NHL-ready arena in place with the Moda Center.
Which brings us to the real issue: This conversation begins and ends with whether Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen wants to add a second major-league team in the Moda Center.
Let’s face it, Allen is probably worried that another major-league franchise whose fall, winter and spring schedule overlaps with the Trail Blazers would undercut fan spending on the Trail Blazers. And yes, that’s a reasonable concern given how many tickets are bought in other cities by major corporations and given that Oregon has only two Fortune 500 companies in Nike and Precision Castparts.
But on the eve of the Sept. 19 home opener for the Western Hockey League’s Winterhawks against the Seattle Thunderbirds, what Portlanders can do to get that second major-league franchise is continue to show Allen and the NHL how the Winterhawks can draw fans at the same time as the Trail Blazers.
In the past three seasons, Winter Hawks attendance has climbed more than 20 percent to an average 7,329 fans per game, second in the 22-team league behind Calgary and ahead of Edmonton and Vancouver, B.C.—all three of which are NHL cities.
Work to be Done
Yet there is work to be done if Portland hopes to persuade the NHL to relocate a franchise here or to make Portland part of a league expansion. For all the great support Portland has shown the WInterhawks, last year the team played to 70.3 percent capacity in both the Moda Center and the Memorial Coliseum.
At the risk of coming off as too boosterish, there remains room for growth in those figures. We need to get the attendance to a point where the NHL can no longer ignore the numbers.
Portland needs look no farther than Denver if it wants to see the path of a city that proved itself so hungry for a major league franchise that it came out in droves for a product even when it wasn’t quite major league. Before Major League Baseball placed the expansion Colorado Rockies in Denver two decades ago, Denver demonstrated years of solid support for minor-league baseball. That’s how you make the change.
Like Denver and baseball, Portland can draw from a long hockey history of supporting the Winterhawks in major junior hockey and the Buckaroos before that in minor league hockey.
Starting Friday against Seattle—which incidentally has somehow vaulted above Portland in talk of a new NHL location – Portland can once again show the city is ready for the NHL.
A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.
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