The United States Census Bureau estimates that, as of 2012, Portland is one of the 30 largest cities in the USA. We clock in at 28 on the population charts, ahead of cities like Kansas City, Oakland, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.
But what do all those cities above have in common that Portland doesn’t have? Two or more major sports teams. Minneapolis has four major sports teams, same with Detroit. All the other cities on the list have three major sports teams except for Kansas City, which only has two major sports teams.
Another similarity between the cities with a lower population than Portland but more pro sports? Except for Oakland, none of them are from the Western half of the United States.
Portland is constantly growing as a city, and the landscape of sports in Portland are changing as well. In the last three years, we’ve seen the introduction of the Portland Timbers, the soccer team with the largest season-ticket waiting list in North America.
Just before that, we saw the reintroduction of Rip City and the establishment of Oregon football as a national championship contender.
Sports teams in Oregon are supported very well. The Portland Trail Blazers are renowned around the NBA for their fan support, which has remained strong in the face the tumult of the last decade and was pulsating during the thrills, but mostly spills, of the Brandon Roy era.
People in this town love their Blazers. Maybe it’s because they were the only major league sports team in the city for almost four decades. But there is a rare connection between the team and its support. The Blazers were fourth in NBA attendance in 2012-13 and the only team in the top 13 in attendance who had a losing record.
It’s not just basketball. People love football in Oregon too. Ticket demand for Oregon football is so great, prices have risen exponentially in the last few seasons. There are talks of expanding Autzen Stadium; the Ducks sell up to 6,000 standing room tickets for conference games.
The Oregon State Beavers are well-supported too, consistently selling out Reser Stadium, even without the sizzle boasted by their in-state rivals.
The fan support for the Portland Timbers has stunned people, but mostly corporations, as the sponsorship dollars have streamed in; the Timbers have sold out every Major League Soccer game they have played in Portland.
The atmosphere at Jeld-Wen Field is intoxicating and people, especially those on City Council who fought against the Timbers becoming an MLS team, have been resoundingly proven wrong.
The city has especially embraced the Portland Winterhawks this year. As the Winterhawks stormed towards the Western Hockey League championship, fan support for minor league hockey grew to the point that Portland’s final home game of the season, game five of the championship series, was sold out in under a day.
People can point to the lack of a Chris Hanson figure who is desperately striving to bring a pro sports franchise to Seattle, or they can point to poor City Council support for sports. But people who say Portland couldn’t support another team if they got it are just plain stupid.
The NFL makes the most sense here. College football support is fantastic and judging by the number of Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and Oakland Raiders fans in the city, NFL fans already exist in large numbers. The ratings for the Super Bowl in Portland are always in the top 30 in the country – above many existing NFL cities.
Look at the success of the Seahawks, the 12th Man, and CenturyLink Field, the venue many consider to be the most atmospheric in the league. Tell me we couldn’t chalk up a similar feel in Portland. Whatever Seattle can do, we can do better.
Tell me a Portland NFL team wouldn’t get better support than the third NFL team in Florida, Jacksonville, or even the first and second teams in Florida, Tampa Bay and Miami. Tell me it wouldn’t get better support than the Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers or Arizona Cardinals. The fans are here. They just need something to support.
The NFL seems like a long shot, but hockey is a possibility. The Winterhawks success at the gate was the talk of the WHL brass during the playoffs; by becoming the only pro-hockey team in the Northwest, the Portland NHL team would have a ton of support.
No, Portland is not a traditional NHL city, but hockey’s success in California and Florida prove you only need great sports fans to make a sports team successful. Clearly, Portland would be a better fit than Columbus or Phoenix for the NHL. The venue, the Rose Garden, is up and ready, and you’d have to believe the Blazers would jump on the chance to rent the building out to a co-tenant.
Whatever the team, Portland would support it. The fans are here, and I believe the dollars are here too. Many companies that missed out on the Timbers bonanza would jump at the chance to invest in another pro sports team.
Of course, someone would have to lead the charge to bring another team to Portland. It’s not going to be Paul Allen. It could be Merritt Paulson, but it should be Phil Knight. Oregon’s de-facto owner is the only man who has the chops and cash to make Portland a can’t-miss for pro sports leagues.
If Knight wants to leave a lasting legacy on his town and state, it should be that he was the man to bring another major league team to Portland.
Does Knight want to jump into the game? It seems like the answer is no, and even if he did, he’d still have to deal with a Portland City Council that couldn’t even figure out minor league baseball. Knight isn’t a fan of playing politics.
Just ask Seattle basketball fans. It’s not easy to get a pro sports team. But Portland has outgrown its sports pallet. We’re ready for more. NFL, NHL, MLB – you name it, we’ll support it. Guaranteed.
Abe Asher is on Twitter. Follow him at @AbesWorldSports