"The key tenet in any business is ‘Know thy customer,’ and in this case, the customer is the community."
Most people gush about him. When asked which Beavers owner is the best in recent memory, Maury Brown, local sports pundit and president of the Business of Sports Network, answers immediately: “Merritt Paulson.”
Paulson has a knack for getting what he wants. He persuaded the city to spend $1 million to install a better artificial surface at PGE Park, and in August 2007, four months after acquiring his new job, he held a press conference with Mayor Potter and PCL president Rickey at which he announced that Portland would host the 2009 Triple-A All-Star Game. A Cricket Wireless sign on the outfield wall counts down to game day on July 15, 2009.
Which is not to say that Paulson didn’t have anything to learn about his new home. Hoping to eliminate the confusion that often arises between the Triple-A team and the OSU Beaver—who, as everyone in the Beaver State knows, won the College World Series in both 2006 and 2007—Paulson considered changing his team’s name. The Beavers’ website offered a selection of potential new names for fans to vote on, including the Wet Sox, the Green Sox, the Thorns (for the Rose City), and the eventual second-place winner, the Sockeyes. Paulson even walked through the stadium, asking fans if they’d consider another name for the team, and the fans overwhelmingly chose … the Beavers.
The lesson? “You can never know a city through due diligence alone,” he says. “It’s funny—for such a progressive city, there’s a resistance to change. I understand that.”
ALREADY, Paulson is talking about moving the Beavers. Not to another town, but perhaps across town, to Lents Park at SE 92nd Avenue and Holgate Boulevard. The idea on the table is to build a stadium dedicated to Triple-A baseball alone. PGE Park, it turns out, poses problems as the Beavers’ sole venue: At 19,600 seats, it’s too darn big for Triple-A baseball, which attracts only 10,000 or so on a very good night. “You need an intimate, baseball-specific stadium,” Paulson says. And while it’s a point of civic pride that PGE Park is located near downtown, right on the MAX line, there’s also a dearth of parking in the surrounding neighborhood, which is inconvenient for many of the Beavers spectators who come from Washington County (roughly 20 percent), those from Clackamas County (25 percent), and those who travel here from Vancouver, Washington, and beyond.
Plus, Paulson is the sort who can’t help but envision ways his company could do things bigger and better. You know, major league.
Though in this case, the major league ambitions he has don’t pertain to baseball—to the chagrin of some sports fans. “You need to have a pretty successful Triple-A franchise to attract Major League Baseball,” Paulson says. “I often start out talks asking how many of you would like to have Major League Baseball in Portland. People put up their hands. And then I ask how many are season-ticket holders to the Beavers, and the hands go down.”
There’s also the fact that Major League Soccer (MLS) has come a-calling. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has visited not just once, but three times, and he’s been wowed by the rabid, painted, screaming, joyful, and often drunken soccer cheering-section that is the Timbers Army, a distinctly Portland phenomenon that didn’t spring from the mind of some marketing guru but rose up organically from the city’s soccer fans themselves. During the opening Timbers game of the season, nearly 11,000 people came out to watch the team play the Puerto Rico Islanders, and to say so long to Jim Serrill, aka Timber Jim, who had finally grown weary of rappelling from the roof with a buzzing chain saw and slicing the ends off of large logs. True, the Timbers play only about 18 home games each year to the Beavers’ 72, but the Timbers outdraw the Beavers in average attendance per game.
Numbers like that impress Major League Soccer, which has named Portland as one of nine cities that might be ripe for an expansion team come 2011. But as MLS examines the most likely markets for new soccer teams and assesses each city’s enthusiasm for the idea (read: willingness to put up the dollars needed to support a major league franchise), the organization also has made it clear that PGE Park would need to be retrofitted for soccer games. It wants seats along each of the sidelines. That wraparound, baseball-friendly configuration just won’t do. Meaning the Beavers would have to go.