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Current MLB to Portland Effort Big on Dreams, Short on Answers.

Byline: Maury Brown

"The A's have a problem. Baseball has a problem. Portland is the solution."

I'm talking with long-time Portland business associate, Lynn Lashbrook. Since 2000, he and I have been in steady contact about the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball to Portland. Lashbrook, the city's biggest cheerleader for bringing MLB to the market, remains ever the optimist. I, given the changes in how the Montreal Expos relocation was structured, and the situation with the Major Leagues today, am not.

In a nutshell, the current effort to bring MLB to Portland is really Lashbrook, and architect Barry Smith. This was a far cry from 2000-2004 when MLB owned the Expos and were actively shopping relocation. At that time, the MLB to Portland effort included Mayor Vera Katz, the Oregon Sports Authority, a group called the Portland Baseball Group, a group of several lawyers, myself, Lashbrook, and others that had former Minnesota Timberwolves President and GM David Kahn pulling it all together.

The key then is nowhere near happening now: a club was owned by the league (Expos), and MLB was actively pursuing relocation. This simple, yet critical aspect, is why any discussion of the A's or Rays relocating is a non-starter. Because without that, what you have are owners trying to leverage a ballpark deal, first in their market, and then only with the blessing of the league and a clear message that says, "Team up for sale," does relocation to a new market occur.

But not even that has happened.

Time and again, the discussion has been that the A's, mired for over 15 years in an effort to get a new ballpark while being stuck in an outdated facility (which has infamously saw toilets back up), is stuck in neutral. Owner Lew Wolff has pushed to get out of Oakland, and while San Jose has gone so far as to try and sue MLB to get the A's to relocate there, that market falls within the Giants operational territory, which they're holding onto like grim death. Since 2009, baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been "working on it" but the politics of the matter are far too thorny to get past. Force the A's into San Jose against the Giants will, and what's to keep that happening with other clubs elsewhere? Selig knows that with a majority of owners having to vote in favor of such a move, the consensus of the owners is not currently behind relocation to San Jose.

But, Wolff is actively looking to relocate. If not in the South Bay, then to Portland, right? No. In fact, Wolff has said his only interest in relocation is within the A's own territory. From CSN Bay Area (http://www.csnbayarea.com/athletics/lew-wolff-exploring-temporary-stadium) (emphasis, author):

"I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term," Wolff wrote. "If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans -- either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore. Looking outside the Bay Area and our media market is an undesirable option to our ownership at this time."

So, the drum being banged on MLB to Portland is not due to any actions on the part of the A's.

There are a host of logistic issues at play that even if the A's were courting the Portland market, make it difficult, if not impossible.

The Mariners, Giants and the Issue of a TV Deal

Lashbrook was quick to tell me that unlike San Jose, the Mariners hold no rights to Portland. This is true to the letter of the MLB Constitution, but doesn't address the 800-lbs. gorilla in the room, television.

The Mariners broadcast territory is vast, covering the entire corner of the Pacific Northwest (see purple in the image below), while the stripes in pink show where the Giants and A's broadcast territory overlaps. Since the ability of any club to be successful is based in large part on their local television rights deal, Portland has to somehow carve up a place in the midst of the competing interests of the Mariners and Giants. You might be able to control as far north as say, Longview, WA, and south to the border with California, but along the way, sharing would come into play, and worse, some form of indemnification to the Mariners and to a lesser extent, the Giants. This means carving up the pie three ways, as opposed to the A's sharing all of Northern California and half of Nevada with just the Giants. Lashbrook and other boosters in Portland will need to spend considerable time being able to answer this question in some capacity for a club to really consider relocation viability.

Outlined in purple, the Mariners broadcast territory is the largest in

MLB, and an obstacle for Portland's MLB efforts

See the entire MLB television broadcast territory map (http://bizofbaseball.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3157&Itemid=170)

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Author:Brown, Maury
Publication:The Biz of Baseball
Date:Apr 11, 2014
Words:997
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