What's an owner to do without customers?

Watching all the people streaming off MAX Monday afternoon, I could only imagine how tough it was for diehard baseball fans to accept the reality the Portland Beavers were on their way somewhere else.

There’s one fan, in particular, that it must have hit harder than anyone else at PGE Park – Merritt Paulson, the team’s owner.

And, if you want to blame anyone for the team’s upcoming move, blame him.

You have to recognize him for being a smart business owner, too.

Paulson showed up in Portland in 2007 after having tried to buy a Class A team in Petaluma, California, a deal that involved the city assisting in building a $10 million stadium on the county fairgrounds. City leaders were on board, but the deal broke down over the $250,000 the fairgrounds would have needed to give up annually for 25 years.

So, Paulson, the son of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, bought the Beavers and Timbers instead, likely thinking PGE Park would continue to be a good home for the Timbers and the city only needed an inspired owner to help build a new baseball stadium.

The soccer part happened. The baseball part didn’t. So, the Beavers are headed elsewhere – probably California, and at a profit for Paulson. Blame him for that.

You can’t blame him for not trying to get that new stadium built – at three different locations in the metropolitan area. Portland, and Beaverton, just didn’t want to build it. That’s civic leaders and ultimately residents opposing all three. If the city had more baseball fans, a stadium would have happened.

Ultimately, a business owner gets the blame for a business moving or folding. Paulson tried, it didn’t happen and the next move is the team moving because Portland is not a Triple A town.

Portland needs a Major League Baseball stadium to lure an MLB team, not a smaller stadium to lure a Triple A team. If minor league baseball returns to Portland, it’ll be to the Portland area, likely Beaverton, which would build a stadium to attract a team.

Paulson, of course, did get a stadium built for the Timbers because the stadium already existed – Multnomah/Civic Stadium/PGE Park, which is never going to get replaced in the lifetime of anyone reading this. Archeologists 3,000 years from now won’t have to dig it up because it’ll still be in the open air, like the Pyramids.

PGE Park needed a much smaller effort by civic leaders to be renovated into a soccer stadium, so that happened. Paulson chose soccer over baseball because Portland is a soccer town more than it is a minor league baseball town. Paying customers say it is.

If the Beavers had more paying customers, civic leaders would have had the support they needed to help build a new stadium. But, that’s not the case. So, Paulson chose soccer over baseball – as a business owner.

Paulson showed up in Portland as a baseball fan, and is remaining as a soccer team owner. A pro sports team owned by someone who lives here. There’s some significant respect that goes along with that. The Blazers don’t have that. The Winterhawks don’t have that.

And, he didn’t just walk away and let someone else take care of the teams, which is what happened with Portland Family Entertainment, the locally-owned organization that pushed for PGE Park to get renovated in time for the 2001 season. When baseball fans, mostly the more wealthy ones who were needed to purchase those “luxury” boxes, didn’t show up, their financial resources dried up and they just … walked away.

So, the Beavers are going to leave – for the third time, and are probably never going to return. Paulson’s got to feel miserable about that and his role in it. But, he’s still here.

And, hey, maybe he’ll try to become a civic leader and run on a platform of bringing Major League Baseball to town. Now, that would be a real gauge of the public’s interest in baseball.

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