Friday, June 24, 2011

NY Times - American soccer's number 1 cheerleader

Another NY Times article on how hot the MLS and soccer generally is in America. This time the NY Times reports on the "hottest ticket" in Portland – the Timbers. I'm sure the Times isn't about how popular the Timbers are seeing as there's no NFL, MLB or NHL team there so competition is light. Only the the Trailblazers  offer major league competition. I don't know much about Portland so I can't say whether college football and basketball draw fans in Portland as they do in many American cities and towns.

The Timbers are a new franchise - this is their first season in the league - which helps make their games a bid faddish. This phenomenon is repeated in every town that suddenly finds itself with a new sports team.

The key is how popular the team is after the fad wears off. We won't know that about the Timbers for a few years yet. At the moment, revenue wise and franchise-value wise they're still far behind the local NBA team, the Trailblazers.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I don't wish the Timbers ill. I hope the franchise succeeds. In terms of weather and demographics - it's actually a pretty big market for so little major league focus - I would imagine soccer in Portland is a good fit.

It's just that the Times annoys me on the topic. They were too busy cheer-leading to offer much of a discordant note on the team's owners Peregrine Sports, LLC, which is controlled by Merritt Paulson. Merritt Paulson is the son of  Henry M. Paulson Jr. - ex-Goldman head, ex-Treasury Secretary, who we got to know very well during the financial melt-down in 2008. Henry Paulson owns a chunk of the team himself.

I guess I'd have expected a bit more of a critical eye on the Paulsons than the Times offers. The most Times offers is that the Paulsons "raised eyebrows" in the " left-leaning and sometimes insular city."

Peregrine roped the city into spending a $30m to renovate the stadium - it had been renovated at a cost of nearly $40m in 2001 to accommodate the the local minor league baseball team, the Beavers. Peregrine bought the Beavers at the same time as it acquired the franchise rights to the Timbers, but when the city didn't pony up for a new baseball stadium in addition to the renovations at Timbers' home field they sold the Beavers, which then relocated to Tucson.

I would have imagined some of that possibly jiggery-pokery would have merited a bit of attention from the Times, but no. The Paulsons basically get a free pass because they're running the "hottest ticket" in town - a soccer team.