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May 25th, 2005 Cliff Pfenning | News Stories
 

Buying Local

How Salt Lake City uses local ownership to trump Portland in big-league team sports.

     
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Steel yourself, Portland sports fans: Tinier Salt Lake City next week will again demonstrate how it attracts major-league teams and Portland doesn't.

Salt Lake will host a June 4 doubleheader featuring its new Major League Soccer franchise in one game and a second match pitting the U.S. men's team and Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier.

And it's not just in soccer that the Salt Lake region has proven a more appealing market for major-league team sports covered by one of the four big broadcast networks.

Salt Lake-which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and is home to a metro-area population about 60 percent Portland's-has a longstanding NBA franchise, as does Portland.

But Salt Lake also has Real Salt Lake in the MLS and an expansion franchise in the Arena Football League. Portland has the minor-league Timbers (see page 15 for interview with mascot "Timber Jim" Serrill) in soccer and no arena football team.

So what's Salt Lake got that Portland doesn't? Local ownership with deeper community roots that can build fan loyalties, say sports veterans in both cities.

Salt Lake auto dealer Larry Miller owns the top-draw Jazz of the NBA and the arena where it plays. Utah's Dave Checketts owns most of Real Salt Lake. And a Utah auto dealership group bought the AFL franchise.

"There's a commitment and a confidence that the area can support these teams," says Jeff Robbins, president of the Utah Sports Commission.

Drew Mahalic, CEO of the nonprofit booster group Oregon Sports Authority, says local ownership is a troubling issue.

"For whatever reasons, the affluent people in Portland just have not seen fit to use their resources to support pro sports franchises here," he says.

Other than locals Ken Hodge and Brian Shaw owning the junior-hockey Winter Hawks, it's a lineup of out-of-towners that own Portland's sports franchises.

Blazers owner Paul Allen lives in Seattle. California businessman Abe Alizadeh recently bought the Triple-A Beavers of baseball's Pacific Coast League and Timbers of soccer's A-League.

California fashion designer Angela Batinovich, who does plan a move to Portland, is the majority owner of a lacrosse franchise recently awarded to Portland in the increasingly trendy National Lacrosse League.

Jack Cain, a minority owner of the Beavers and Timbers, says local ownership was a key reason his Portland Rockies flourished for six years before the latest reincarnation of the Beavers arose in 2001.

"Being from Portland was a key to that success," says Cain, who ran the team with his wife, Mary. "I think a lot of people came out to the games just to support us."

Salt Lake City

Population, 2000: 181,743

Median age: 30

Metro population: 900,000

Pro sports franchises (2004-05 attendance averages): Utah Jazz, NBA (18,756); Real Salt Lake, Major League Soccer (20,770); Salt Lake Stingers, Pacific Coast League (5,857, '04); Utah Grizz, American Hockey League (4,800); Utah*, Arena Football League.

*Expansion franchise with team name to be announced later.

Portland

Population, 2000: 529,121

Median age: 35

Metro population: 1,500,000

Pro sports franchises (2004-05 attendance averages):

Portland Trail Blazers, NBA (16,594); Portland Timbers, United Soccer Leagues (4,769); Portland Beavers, Pacific Coast League (4,343, '04); Portland Winter Hawks, Western Hockey League (5,859); Portland*, National Lacrosse League.

* Expansion franchise with team name to be announced later.


Portland is the largerst city in the United States with just one major-league team.
 
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