In the past, there was a clear path for a community to land a major-league baseball team: show interest in the sport vis minor-league attendance, launch a ticket drive to show grassroots interest, and then rally business support for season tickets.
It’s a formula previously used in Major League Baseball expansion, and it’s a formula being employed by the Portland Diamond Project, which has expanded its marketing statewide in order to show grassroots support for a prospective MLB team. Portland Diamond Project officials are hoping to build a base of fans from the likes of Bend or Medford who will head to Portland for the weekend and take in a game or two. From the Eugene Register-Guard:
“We are called the Portland Diamond Project, but the fun part has been connecting all Oregonians and people in southwest Washington, too,” said [Craig] Cheek, the founder and president of the group. “This is our effort to unify the state and get into the cities and listen to how baseball can make Oregon better. That is how we will continue this movement building around a fan base with the chorus that Oregon is ready for baseball to come at the Major League level. We are going to listen, but we will not be bashful about saying how excited and inspired we are for this project.”
The yet-to-be named team would seek statewide support during the summer schedule.
“When you think about Oregon tourism, travel picks up between Memorial Day and Labor Day and two-thirds of our games would be played during that time,” Cheek said. “It is our best weather and we think people from Bend, Medford, La Grande, Pendleton, Hermiston and other places want to stay for a three-day weekend to enjoy a doubleheader to take memories back with them.”
Marketing efforts like this are important. But will they be effective in persuading MLB of the viability of a Portland expansion bid?
While the MLB relocation/expansion process can be a little opaque, MLS takes the opposite approach in laying out expansion criteria. It’s been a successful process, drumming up support for pro soccer in a variety of cities and giving expansion teams plenty of momentum entering the league. Here’s what MLS does and how it could be used by MLB:
- Line up plenty of deep pockets. MLS is a membership league, so investors are buying into the league, not necessarily a specific team. But it’s a given that it will take well over a billion dollars to build a ballpark and potentially acquire an expansion franchise. And while some big names are part of the Portland Diamond Project, including entertainer Ciara and her husband, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, the lineup currently lacks the lead investor an effort like this requires. This isn’t to say one isn’t waiting in the wings, but so far a competing Montreal bid is light years ahead attracting deep-pocketed investors in the competition to land MLB.
- Sign up a major sponsor. MLS has jersey sponsors, but the relationship goes far beyond just a kit logo: it extends to all parts of the business operation. With MLB moving toward jersey patches (they’re already used in overseas series, such as the 2019 games in Tokyo and London), this may be an important part of any future expansion pitch.
- Require a finalized stadium plan before the awarding of an expansion franchise. This is not a requirement that’s ever waived for MLS. FC Cincinnati was not granted entry to MLS until a new-stadium plan was finalized. Sacramento Republic showed great attendance in minor-league soccer but was not considered a frontrunner for MLS expansion until a funding plan for a new downtown stadium was finalized. In Montreal, the Bronfman group has the broad outline of a stadium/development plan in place. In Portland, the Portland Diamond Project has a site and a general design, but needs to finalize both.
There are some other criteria used in the MLS expansion process, such as the establishment of a youth-academy system, but you get the point.
There’s still so much up in the air in both Oakland and Tampa Bay regarding new ballparks, and until those situations are finalized, there’s really no incentive for the Portland Diamond Project to do more than what’s happening now: continued promotion of their efforts (which they’re doing quite well on social media) and quietly meeting with investors and key players. But soon enough it will be clear whether MLB teams will be moving or expansion is on the table, and we’re guessing the expansion process will be more rigorous than it was in 1998, when the Diamondbacks and Rays entered MLB. In that case, the MLS expansion roadmap is a pretty good one.
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