What do Cincinnati, Tampa, Oakland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland all have in common?
Each of these cities have both a Major League Baseball and a National Football League team.
Also, each is a smaller city than Portland, Oregon.
I am a Michigander living in Portland. As such, I will volunteer that I am somewhat ignorant of the situation, but I have been perplexed by one thought since I moved to this wonderful Pacific Northwest oasis.
Why does Portland only have one major sports franchise?
This is a question that I think many people that have visited this city have asked themselves as well as those they encounter.
It is a question that people have asked me since I moved out here last September.
In all honesty, I can not even venture a guess.
Typically, there are some easy and straight-forward reasons why particular cities do not gain major franchises.
Usually, it is tied to the following four questions: Does a city have enough people, do those people have a sports passion, does the city have enough corporate clout, and is the city cheap enough to make a major franchise profitable?
The answer to the first question would have to be a resounding "yes." The city of Portland is the 29th most populous in the United States. With a population of over 550,000 people, it is larger than the above mentioned cities, and is nearly twice as big as Buffalo, and is five times as large as Green Bay.
Furthermore, it is roughly the same size as Boston, Baltimore, Denver, and Washington D.C.
Can you imagine any of those cities being without a football or baseball team?
The answer to the second question may not be obvious to those that have never visited Oregon, but this is an area that is busting with sports passion.
Before I moved to Oregon, I had some pre-conceived ideas of the people in this area. I pictured a mix of hippies and urban snobs as well as tattooed bums and rich philosophers. Above all, I pictured an area that was so post-modern that they were essentially post-sports.
Obviously, I have found much of that which I assumed to find. All of these stereotypical Portlanders are definitely found in abundance.
However, one over-riding characteristic that they all possess is that they love their Trail Blazers!
Never before have I encountered the type of people that I encounter here that are sports fans. Sure, Michigan has many of the same types.
Michigan has their hippies and urban snobs, but in the Midwest they are simply called "lazy" and "wimpy" (as well as some not too b/r friendly names), and they do not follow sports.
Additionally the ski bums, outdoorsmen, and stoners that all exist everywhere else all exist here in Portland, but they too are Blazer fans.
Quite simply, the only unifying characteristic that these people share (aside from their inability to cope with extreme weather of any kind) is their love for their Blazers.
Perhaps this goes to a sense of counter-culture that the Blazers seem to embody. Perhaps it is because they are the only show in town as far as sports goes.
However, I get the sense that it is just your basic civic pride. The Blazers are "their team", so they support them. This is reflected by the Blazers attendance numbers last year. Portland ranked third in the league with an astounding 20,524 average people per game.
Obviously the Blazers' recent resurgence has a lot to do with that, but around town it was evident that the people really cared about their players. On countless occasions I have been treated to tales of player encounters that are always positive.
When Channing Frye was recently let go, a co-worker of mine seemed bummed. When I reminded him that Frye had averaged an underwhelming four points per game, he countered, "yeah, but he was just such a nice guy."
There is an un-tapped artery of sports passion hidden here in the pacific northwest, one that is natural and pure. They love their players because they care about their town.
During the "Jail Blazer" days in the 1990's, the fans stayed away and refused to endorse their antics. Although this is a very politically liberal area, values matter more than one might expect, and the people did not want that to be the face of their city.
Furthermore, it does not appear to be just a case of basketball love that fuels Blazer-mania. There is a tremendous passion for local college teams such as Portland State and the annual Civil War Game between Oregon and Oregon State is always a hotbed for sports fanaticism.
This is a town that is itching for their sports jones to be scratched, and a MLB or NFL team would truly unlock that sentiment.
Furthermore, there are quite a few transplanted midwesterners that are eager to leave behind their terrible sports teams and come in on the ground floor of a new franchise (I'm talking to you, Lions fans).
The third question, does the city have enough corporate clout, is a good one. The answer to this is a four letter word—Nike.
Nike, the Beaverton, Oregon based mega-conglomerate is essentially a suburb of Portland. Granted, there are no other Fortune 500 companies in the state, but if you are going to only have one, might as well be one of the biggest.
Additionally, nearby Washington and California house dozens more major corporations that could easily get involved in what would be a major cash crop.
This brings me to the last question—would a major sports franchise be profitable in Portland?
The easiest way to answer that question is with three little words—no sales tax.
That's right, there is no sales tax in Oregon. So when you go to a store and buy a shirt for $19.95, you get a nickel back from your $20. That may not sound like a big deal, but for a major company that is looking to back a franchise, that makes business a lot easier.
Furthermore, Portland is a beautiful city that is relatively inexpensive by cost of living standards. They have a revitalized downtown that is very safe by big city standards, and a mass transit system that would make some European cities jealous.
And while the state of Oregon has seen some rough economic times due to the housing bubble burst (Oregon is a major lumber hub), the city of Portland has remained surprisingly upbeat economically.
So why hasn't it happened?
For a short time, the MLB had a flirtation with Portland. Before Washington was awarded the Nationals, there was mutual interest between the two sides.
Baseball in particular is in need of Portland from a logistics standpoint. The American League West, where a potential Portland franchise might land, is the only division in baseball with only four teams. A Portland team would bring much needed symmetry to the American League.
Football would be a little more tricky as the league currently has a perfectly symmetrical eight divisions with exactly four teams in each division. Unless a Portland investment group were able to pry the Rams or 49ers from St. Louis or San Francisco, it seems unlikely that the league will come knocking.
Sadly, it seems that a NFL team in particular would do the best in Portland. However, baseball would be a welcomed silver medal for the city.
So, will it happen?
My guess is yes. I just have to hard of a time imagining this city with only one major sports team. It has just too much to offer.
A promising potential sign of optimism is the fact that Portland was recently awarded a Major League Soccer team. The new team will begin play in 2011.
Personally, I think that the added revenue and attention received from a new team will just wet the appetites of the population, and as a result you will see a major push over the next decade to land a bigger fish, likely Major League Baseball.
An even more likely scenario may emerge in which the MLB comes knocking and the city of Portland refuses to answer. Because for all the attention and money that could result from a potential collaboration, many Portlanders may be unwilling to share with the rest of the country a lovely little city with just the right amount of charm and idiosyncrasies.