In the meantime, there is still a city to be wooed to the ballpark, a brand to build, baseball to be played. Trust to be restored. “The key tenet in any business is ‘Know thy customer,’ and in this case, the customer is the community,” Paulson says.
To that end, Paulson created the Portland Beavers & Portland Timbers Community Fund this year, which will give $100,000 in profits to charities like Portland City United Soccer Club and the Boy Scouts. And at the end of each Sunday baseball game, the kids are invited down to run bases. They line up behind home plate, and when Paulson gives the signal, they circle the diamond: first base, second base, third base. Some slide, some laugh, some raise their arms like airplane wings. Paulson gives them high fives when they hit home.
IT’S THE END of June now, a cloudless night, 70 degrees. It’s the 78th game of the season, and the Beavers are about to take on the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Tonight also happens to be Miller Lite Thursday, more commonly known as Thirsty Thursday, when Miller Lite goes for $2 and microbrews go for $3.50—25 cents cheaper than a bottle of water. Baseball fans are out in droves, many of them 20-somethings who are here to watch some baseball, sure, but also to watch each other, which is fine with Paulson.
He mentions a study he read that showed that more than half of minor league baseball fans don’t know the final score of the game, or even who won, when they leave the ballpark. In other words, minor league ball isn’t about winning and losing so much as the simple pleasure of hanging out at a baseball game at a great ballpark. “We’re marketing the experience, the promotions, and the team,” Paulson says.
Over the course of the season, as the temperature climbs, so does attendance. At the end of May, the Beavers were ranked 13th in attendance out of 16 Pacific Coast League teams, with an average of just under 4,000 fans per game. By the end of June, that average had reached 4,660 per game, and the team’s rank had risen to 12th.
Tonight’s attendance hit 9,973, but by the seventh-inning stretch, a lot of people are already gone for the night, which is also fine with Paulson. At $8 or $9 per ticket, a family can head home early to get the kids to bed without feeling like they didn’t get their money’s worth.
But those who do stick around to watch the game—like the chunky 10-year-old kid who’s been sucking down Sprite all night and the two middle schoolers who can’t stop singing We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher—are lucky. In the ninth inning, the Beavers are down by two runs, but instead of folding up camp, the team rallies. With a runner on base, catcher Nick Hundley hits one over the Miller Lite sign, tying the game. That means bonus baseball: extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, the Sky Sox fail to deliver. And then the Beavers take charge: Chip Ambres singles and steals second. Brian Myrow draws a walk. And here comes Hundley again, lacing one up the middle. A Sky Sox player jumps, misses. The ball flies toward the scoreboard. By then, Ambres is home. The fans are out of their seats.
And Paulson is still here, too. He’s leaning over the balcony, cheering for his team.