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December 14th, 2011 NIGEL JAQUISS | Elections
 

It’s All in the Game

Rob Cornilles’ pursuit of tax breaks and his shrinking company challenge his campaign image as a “Job Creator.”

EMPTY SPACE: Rob Cornilles’ company, Game Face, once occupied this Tualatin office. Vacant since 2008, the office is still listed as the company’s headquarters.

 

Cornilles is a well-known figure in many sports teams’ front offices. He says Game Face has served 400 professional and college teams.

Mike Golub, chief operating officer of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers, says he’s known Cornilles for 15 years, and that Game Face did good work for the Timbers and Portland Trail Blazers, the team Golub used to work for. 

“They’ve done a really good job, and it’s always been a pleasure to work with them,” Golub says.

But Cornilles has also made claims that he is one of the nation’s top sports marketing figures. “Rob has been invited into more front offices than any person in sports,” Cornilles says on his LinkedIn page.

Some sports business veterans, however, are puzzled by the claim.

“I don’t know what that means,” says Steve Patterson, former Blazers president and now chief operating officer for Arizona State University’s athletic department.

“I know he’s trained folks who have been placed at various teams,” says Patterson, who has also worked for the NFL’s Houston Texans and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. “But I don’t even know how you evaluate that claim.”

Cornilles says he was on the road for 15 years, traveling to sports franchises, including from  1997-99 for MLS, which had him visit each team three times a year.

Pressed by WW to substantiate his claim that he’s been in more front offices than “any person in sports,” Cornilles says he can’t. 

“Admittedly, you’d have to take my word for it,” he says.

Cornilles’ campaign also claims Game Face has “advised and trained more than 30,000 executives in the pro and collegiate ranks.”

“That’s a massive number,” says Syracuse University sports marketing Prof. Rick Burton, who co-authored an academic paper with Cornilles 15 years ago. “There’s just no way to know whether it’s accurate or not.”

The claim that Cornilles has trained 30,000 executives has also jumped—last year he said on his LinkedIn page that the number was 25,000.

“The increase isn’t because I did 5,000 in the past year,” Cornilles says. “It’s because I did the numbers more carefully.”

The Oregonian reported Tuesday about the decline of Cornilles’ company—once employing as many as 20 people, it now has only four.

Many of Cornilles’ other business problems have also been reported. In October, WW reported that Game Face failed to make federal payroll tax payments for three quarters in a row in 2007, resulting in an $83,000 federal tax lien.

Cornilles blames a bookkeeper for failing to make the tax payments; his company had to set up a payment plan with the Internal Revenue Service and got the lien cleared three months later.

In 2003, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries settled claims against Game Face involving a sports marketing training program.

The allegations, first reported by the Forest Grove News-Times in 2010, were brought by trainees who claimed they were selling tickets for Game Face without being paid to do so. Cornilles’ company paid $9,000 to settle the claim.

Cornilles tells WW his business has declined in recent years. He says the recession has hit the sports business, and fewer teams are hiring his firm. He said his campaigning for Congress—he ran against Wu in 2010 but lost—has taken a toll.

Cornilles says Game Face has been highly dependent on his presence and that he’s taken a pay cut. “I sacrificed income for the benefit of my employees,” he says.

In 2010, records show Cornilles allowed the federal trademark on the name “Game Face” to lapse, which meant he no longer owned the right to the brand he’d spent 15 years building.

Congressional candidate disclosure forms show that through the first eight months of 2011, Game Face paid Cornilles a total of just $48,750. He made $42,000 last year, and $85,750 in 2009.

Records show most of Cornilles’ household income comes from business investments in a family trust controlled by his wife’s family. His wife, Allison, controls 17 percent of the trust, records show.

(The trust includes a Northeast Portland retirement center built with nearly $9 million in public loans. The center recently had its property tax abatement extended, a break that city officials estimate is worth $2 million.)

After WW asked Cornilles’ campaign in October why Game Face’s business registration showed the company to be inactive, Cornilles set about fixing it.

That process got delayed because Cornilles tried to re-register Game Face using a post-office box for the company’s address.

But Oregon law requires a company to have a physical location, so Cornilles listed 19125 SW 125th Court, Tualatin, as Game Face’s address.

The only catch—Game Face vacated its 6,800-square-foot office at that location in 2008 to save money.

Asked why his business registration lists an empty office, Cornilles initially denied that was the case. When showed the records, he called it “a mistake.”

“I can see how that would be confusing to people,” he says. “There’s nothing fishy about it.” 

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