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2 cities’ groups lobby for MLB teams

2 cities’ groups lobby for MLB teams

JOHN ROFE

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Two sports commissions are at the center of their cities' efforts to land a Major League Baseball franchise.

The Portland Oregon Sports Authority and the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission in Washington are actively lobbying baseball and seeking potential investors if a major league team relocates after this season or next.

The Portland organization joined a years-long effort by a group of local business leaders called Portland Baseball to woo a ballclub to the city, offering aging Civic Stadium as a temporary home until a new ballpark can be built.

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission decided "we had to be more proactive," said marketing director Neville Waters, when talk of moving a team to the area focused not on the nation's capital but on suburban northern Virginia.

The D.C. commission conducted several studies on the viability of baseball in the market and on a team's impact on the neighboring Baltimore Orioles. It also helped assemble an investor group, which includes two former commission directors who "can help cutting through the red tape," Waters said.

Last month, bid leader Fred Malek, a former partner of George W. Bush when he owned the Texas Rangers, and members of the investor group traveled to Atlanta to schmooze major league executives and sponsors gathered for the annual All-Star Game. "We're very encouraged based on the response we're getting from people," Waters said.

Washington and Portland are targeting the usual suspects: the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A's and Montreal Expos — teams in cities unwilling to meet their demands for a new ballpark or unable to offer the necessary corporate climate to fill luxury suites and premium seats.

The Portland Sports Authority joined other Oregonians in pursuing a major league franchise early this year.

"We were working on the same issue," said Drew Mahalic, executive director of the authority. "Our job is to bring the highest level of sport to our region and our state. We both came to the conclusion that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Earlier this summer, the authority and Portland Baseball hired Game Plan LLC, an investment banking firm, to help identify potential backers. Architect HOK Sport has been hired to review potential sites for a new ballpark, and the authority and the baseball group are working with local legislators to fund it.

Both Waters and Mahalic said chasing a major league team is not unlike what sports commissions typically do in bidding for a major sporting event. The task often requires the panel to coordinate government and business efforts to make their city the most attractive destination.

Along with targeting an MLB team, Waters said, the D.C. commission is in the middle of the 2012 Summer Olympics bid process and is examining building a stadium for D.C. United, the Major League Soccer franchise that plays in the commission-managed Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

The Portland area recently hosted the Gorge Games and the U.S. Pro Waterski and Wakeboard tour. Next week, the largest beach volleyball event ever will take place in coastal Seaside, where 60,000 spectators are expected.

Getting a major league team will not be easy for either group. Baseball has not allowed a franchise to relocate since the Washington Senators left D.C. for Texas in 1972. The move was the second time the city lost a major league team. An earlier version of the Senators left for Minnesota in 1961.

Waters contends that the departures were unrelated to Washington's suitability as a home. In any case, the economic makeup of the market has improved since the 1960s and '70s, Waters said.

"We don't think that [D.C.] failed baseball, but we realize that's the perception, so we have to deal with it," he said.

With more than one troubled franchise, Mahalic said there is no need to keep tabs on potential competition.

Waters said the D.C. commission is in a "friendly competition" with the northern Virginia group, which is led by Reston, Va., businessman William Collins III. Many in baseball think the D.C. and Virginia groups will have to join forces in order to make a successful bid. That the two are mentioned in the same breath is in itself an accomplishment for the D.C. commission, Waters said.

"We're really a legitimate option," he said.

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