I’ll get two things out of the way up front: I am a huge baseball fan and, having lived in the Portland area for the past two decades, would love nothing more than for Portland to have a Major League Baseball team. With that said, I can say this — Portland will not have a Major League Baseball team, at least not anytime soon.
The embers of hope for Major League Baseball coming to Portland got a puff from the bellows this week when ESPN reported that the league had given the Oakland Athletics permission to look for a new city. The A’s play in a (literal) sewage dump and talks with the city of Oakland for a new stadium never seem to move beyond the drawing board.
Coincidently, this is as far as any attempts to bring Major League Baseball to Portland have advanced. Certainly getting major league baseball to Portland is a dream, but sometimes dreams crash into cold hard reality.
Take a drive around Portland. The problems are not hard to spot — garbage, a homeless crisis without a solution, rising gun violence, civil unrest, and failing infrastructure — all these are problems the city needs to confront. When the city government can barely get out of its own way, spending money on luring a professional sports team isn’t much of an option.
Regardless of what anyone says, bringing in a team would require an investment of public money, and that’s money that Portland doesn’t have the desire to spend. Sure, boosters such as the Portland Diamond Project can emphasize the private funding side of the possibility of bringing in a team. Still, new teams always need investments from the public in some form or another, whether it be tax waivers, revenue splits, discounts on fees, or new spending on the stadium or surrounding infrastructure.
For that matter, Major League Baseball does not want private investors fully funding new stadiums because that would close the door on asking for public money for any stadium ever again. If a stadium is privately funded, every city the league asks for money would simply respond with, “City X didn’t pay for their stadium. Why should we pay for ours?” Make no mistake about it, Major League Baseball is actively looking for new markets. While the league has been loath to promote expansion out of fear of diluting revenues for existing teams and bolstering the players’ unions with new members, now may be the prime moment for the league to expand. A partial season without fans in 2020 took a chunk out of the league’s revenue, and they want to find a way to recoup those losses.
Expansion, especially if used in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations, could secure labor peace, open new markets, and get league owners a quick infusion of cash through expansion fees. But why am I talking about expansion when the current topic is the Oakland A’s relocating? Because it’s not in MLB’s best interests to relocate the A’s. They don’t want to put the A’s in a market they could get expansion revenue from instead. They would rather convince Oakland to help build a new stadium than convince another couple of cities to build stadiums. That’s a win-win for the league.
Once you realize that the odds of the A’s relocating are not very good, Portland’s slim odds decrease even further. Without an existing team owner, you would need to find a new ownership group to head up an expansion franchise, and in Portland’s case, one committed to using mostly private funds to build a stadium on land that hasn’t been purchased yet in a city that has no political will to build a stadium for a major league baseball team.
Many folks may not remember, but Merritt Paulson did not purchase the Portland Timbers with an eye on making them an MLS franchise. He purchased the Portland Beavers under a company titled Shortstop LLC, and the Timbers were included in that purchase. He quickly saw that getting major league baseball in Portland was a dead end, and he had a better path to the top level of pro sports with the Timbers.
That effort took plenty of begging, pleading, and arm twisting to make a renovation at what is now Providence Park happen to get that franchise approved. Then, when he tried to find a new home in Portland for the Beavers, he was blocked at every turn. If the city didn’t want to make the relatively small investment to keep a Triple-A team with an owner essentially offering to build a minor league stadium on his own dime, where does one get the idea they are ready to do the heavy lifting to bring in a Major League Baseball team?
When looking at the facts, one clearly would not get that idea. This is why Portland will not be getting a Major League Baseball team, at least not anytime in the near future — and nor should it. While I love baseball, the City of Portland has better and more important things to accomplish in the reality of here and now than to spend time and money pursuing a fantasy.