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Oregon Sports Authority celebrates return of NCAA Tourney

Three weeks from today, four first round games of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will tip off at the Rose Garden, officially bringing to an end the tournament’s 34-year absence from Portland and 26-year absence from the state of Oregon.  This long-awaited moment is the realization of many years of hard work by the Oregon Sports Authority and other supporters who fought tirelessly to bring March Madness back to Oregon.

“Four years ago, we took on the challenge of eliminating the state’s sports lottery with an unrelenting focus, knowing that the end result would be incredibly meaningful for the state,” said Drew Mahalic, CEO of the Oregon Sports Authority.  “And now that it’s finally a reality, we couldn’t be more proud and excited to welcome the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship back to Oregon.”

Portland last played host to college basketball’s premier event in 1975, when UCLA won the regional semifinal and final at Memorial Coliseum on their way to the national championship.  The last NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship games in Oregon took place in Corvallis in 1983, when Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team edged both Pepperdine and UNLV in first and second round games during their storybook run to the NCAA championship.  In the two decades since, Oregon was prevented from hosting the men’s basketball tournament due to the state lottery’s sports action game.

Four years ago, in an effort to reclaim the March Madness experience, the Oregon Sports Authority developed a plan in concert with Oregon legislators to eliminate the state’s sports lottery while also stabilizing lottery funding for college athletics.  While previous efforts had stalled largely due to the inability to replace lottery revenue directed to college athletics, the bill introduced in the 2005 legislature would ultimately pass by a total margin of 80-4 in the final days of the session.  The Oregon Sports Authority then teamed with the University of Oregon, Rose Quarter and Travel Portland to submit Portland’s bid to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, which named the Rose Garden as a host site for the 2009 first-/second-rounds in July of 2006.

Three years later, Oregon is now poised to reap the tremendous benefits of hosting one of the nation’s most exciting and economically impactful sports events.  Past host sites of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship have reported an economic impact of approximately $10 million.  In Portland, the official hotel block for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship totals nearly 3,000 hotel room nights, with thousands more anticipated from out-of-town spectators.

“It’s one of the biggest and best events in all of sports, and that’s why we worked so hard to make it happen,” said Mahalic.  “We’ve brought a lot of big time events to Oregon, but this probably ranks as the most satisfying because of the incredible challenges involved.”

In recent months the Oregon Sports Authority has lent its support to the organizing efforts of the University of Oregon, the official host institution for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Portland.  Eight teams from two separate regions will arrive in Portland to play four first round games during two sessions of action at the Rose Garden on Thursday, March 19.  The four winners will advance to play in the two second round games at the Rose Garden on Saturday, March 21.

“We’ve been working closely with the University of Oregon, Rose Quarter and Travel Portland to make sure the teams, fans, media and NCAA officials are all treated to a very warm welcome,” said Mahalic.  “The next round of bidding is coming up soon so we want to make a positive impression and state our case for the right to host a regional in 2011 or 2012.”

While tickets are sold out for the first and second round games on March 19 and 21, the public is invited to join the festivities and watch all eight teams practice free of charge on Wednesday, March 18 at the Rose Garden.  Practices will take place from Noon to 3:00 p.m. and from 4:25 p.m. to 7:20 p.m.  Admission and parking are both free on the open practice day.  The eight NCAA Tournament teams competing in Portland will be announced on CBS-TV at 3:00 p.m. PT on Sunday, March 15.

— Oregon Sports Authority News Release, February 26, 2009

Betting on March Madness payoff

Call it the new March Madness: trying to determining Oregon’s reward for hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in three weeks.

The arrival of college sports’ biggest show may not be quite the economic bonanza some imagine. It also seems unlikely to be a dud, as some economists envision, because of the national recession. The reality will likely be somewhere in between, but most — including leading Oregon lawmakers — say it is worth the gamble.

When the Oregon Legislature did away with the Sports Action lottery game in 2005, it cleared the way for the NCAA Tournament to return for the first time since 1983. But since that move, the state’s budget has dug itself a projected $3 billion hole. In hindsight, bringing March Madness — and its fleeting revenue — at the expense of a lottery game and its consistent revenue — may seem like a crazy idea.

“Everything’s going south on us,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. “But no, I don’t have any misgivings about it. We love our basketball here.”

Tournament games return to Oregon this year for the first time since 1983, and to Portland for the first time since 1975. Follow along as The Oregonian counts down to the tournament.

And many others who love basketball will come here for the tournament. The eight schools that draw Portland seeds for the first- and second-round games at the Rose Garden on March 19 and 21 will have a total allotment of 6,800 tickets. Toss in a few hundred NCAA officials, future hosts, broadcast partners and corporate types, and it should fill many hotels and restaurants.

Drew Mahalic of the Oregon Sports Authority, which pushed for the legislation to bring the NCAAs back after its 26-year hiatus, said what he projects to be $10 million in economic impact, along with the possibility of future NCAA events, make trading betting for basketball a no-brainer.

— Excerpt from The Oregonian, February 26, 2009

Seeking the green for MLS

We didn’t actually count the kelly-green high-tops, jerseys, scarves, etc., at the Portland Building on Tuesday. Which is too bad.

Clearly, though, the Portland Timbers-infused crowd was going for an understated look — flashes and touches of green rather than full-on, head-to-toe immersion. Still, you knew a coup d’etat had taken place.

A bedraggled platoon, the Timbers Army, had pretty much taken over the hearing room.

The fans were there to urge the city’s Major League Soccer Task Force to help bring a team to town. (And “fan,” by the way, might be too cool and remote a term to describe true Timbers devotion.) Even if you’ve never attended a soccer match, though, you could see why they’re excited.

Next week, the MLS task force will make a recommendation on Timbers’ owner Merritt Paulson’s proposal to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to town. To have an owner of Paulson’s caliber swooping in and offering to buy a team is a rare opportunity, one that the City Council shouldn’t squander.

— Excerpt from The Oregonian Editorial, February 26, 2009

Portland soccer fans turn out to support stadium

The Portland Timbers Army, clad in green soccer jerseys and telltale wool scarves, invaded the Tuesday night meeting of the city’s Major League Soccer Task Force to show support for a bid to bring another major league sports team to town.

“This is an opportunity to go through a door that will close shortly,” said soccer fan Ean Todd. “We need to do this now.”

Todd was right on target in terms of timing. Major League Soccer is set next month to pick two cities where it will expand for the 2011 season.

Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, who also owns the Triple A Portland Beavers baseball team, is seeking city-backed financing to renovate PGE Park for soccer and to build a new baseball stadium for the Beavers. Both teams play at PGE Park, but MLS requires its teams to play in soccer-specific venues.

— Excerpt from OregonLive.com, February 25, 2009

An investment in more than sports

Very soon, Portland will make a once-in-a-generation decision. We have an opportunity to create more than 600 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs, an opportunity to leverage at least $40 million in private investment, an opportunity to revitalize our city with millions in private investment and new sustainability-focused development, an opportunity to showcase Portland and Oregon to the nation and world by adding another major league team poised to flourish, and an opportunity for more than 1 million people every year to help build our economy and community.

We can accomplish all this — and more — with a positive decision by March 15 from the Portland City Council to support our proposal to bring Major League Soccer to Portland at PGE Park and to build a new ballpark for the Portland Beavers.

Soccer City, USA, deserves soccer played at its highest level. The Portland Timbers enjoy big crowds and passionate fans. The 2003 Women’s World Cup in Portland drew more than 80,000 fans. More than 60,000 young people participate in club soccer in our area. And MLS is booming.

— Excerpt from The Oregonian, Guest Opinion by Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Timbers and Beavers

Task force takes its shot at goal

A citizen task force studying whether to bring a Major League Soccer team to Portland will consider recommending the move Tuesday afternoon.

The proposed recommendation notes that the plan is $20 million to $40 million short of its required budget, and urges the City Council to identify a source for the money that does not require higher taxes or cuts in existing agency budgets.

The task force will take public testimony on the recommendation before making a decision at a 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday on the second floor of the Portland Building, 1120 S.W. Fifth Ave.  The city is studying the issue because Major League Soccer is scheduled to award two expansion team this year.

— Excerpt from The Portland Tribune, February 24, 2009

Portland sets goals for MLS deal

When the city and the Portland Trail Blazers worked out a 750-page deal to build the Rose Garden, the team took most of the risk and the city got some of the reward when the arena opened in 1995.

The city wants to follow that model as it works toward a deal with Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Timbers soccer team, who’s bidding for one of two Major League Soccer franchises up for grabs this year.

City officials expect Paulson to assume much of the financial risk if either the team or the young league fails. “We’re definitely pushing for the best deal for taxpayers,” Mayor Sam Adams said. “We’re risk averse.”

Paulson has gotten that message.  “The great news is we are structuring a deal that does not expose the general fund and has zero impact to taxpayers over time,” he said this week.

City officials say they’re less than two weeks from structuring an arrangement to meet Paulson’s mid-March deadline for making a pitch to Major League Soccer.

— Excerpt from OregonLive.com/The Oregonian, February 20, 2009

Citizen task force likes the idea of MLS, loathes the risk

The soccer ball is getting kicked back and forth a bit.

A task force looking at a proposal to bring Major League Soccer to Portland said it likes the idea of bringing another major league team here, but has serious concerns about the financial risk to the city’s general fund, which pays for basic services including police and fire protection, parks and public housing.

And several members of the Portland City Council are chanting that mantra as well.

The 18-member citizens group met tonight to begin working up its recommendation to the City Council, which will vote in early March on whether to sell city-backed bonds to support the idea.

— Excerpt from OregonLive.com, February 17, 2009

MLS debate remains a matter of money, and more

Pro soccer in Portland, featuring the Portland Timbers, would move up a notch if team owner Merritt Paulson gets the city to agree on terms for remodeling PGE Park and building a new baseball stadium for the Beavers.

Portland’s Major League Soccer/minor-league baseball park issue is a complicated one, and one that will play out over the next month as the city faces a March 15 deadline to tell MLS officials if they want in or not for a franchise.

I’ve spoken with representatives of all the participating factions – including those from the MLS – over recent months.

Here are the conclusions I’ve drawn after those discussions:

I’d say it’s 60-40 the city of Portland officials will decide to go for a franchise, but it won’t be that surprising if it goes the other way.

Merritt Paulson, who owns the Triple-A baseball Beavers and the United Soccer Leagues Timbers, says he will pay the $40 million MLS expansion fee, but Paulson wants the city to cover the roughly $85 million it would cost to refurbish PGE Park to MLS requirements and construct a baseball-only park for the Beavers.

— Excerpt from The Portland Tribune, February 17, 2009

Portland’s shot at the MLS

In the editorial board meeting yesterday, the subject of Merritt Paulson’s effort to win a Major League Soccer franchise for Portland came up. It was mostly a conversation about taxpayer protection, the pros and cons of a baseball park in the Rose Quarter and the proposed upgrades to PGE Park. But along the way, one among us — collegial decorum forbids me to say whom — voiced the opinion that “soccer is stupid.”

I’ve learned to smile at this and not adopt that whiny, picked-on tone that soccer fans sometimes slip into. I do think there’s some inherent grumpiness in the air for American pro sports fans contemplating basketball’s All-Star break and the void between football and baseball seasons. Without the usual seasonal distractions, sports fans have little choice but to contemplate their dwindling retirement portfolios and gloomy economic prospects.

— Excerpt from OregonLive.com Commentary by Mike Francis, February 12, 2009

A fresh idea for the Rose Quarter

Could a new minor league baseball stadium help resuscitate Portland’s ailing Rose Quarter?

Portland’s Rose Quarter with the Rose Garden arena at left and Memorial Coliseum at right, as seen in 2004.  It’s an intriguing idea that deserves serious consideration by the city task force that’s exploring a proposal to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Portland. Questions abound, but if construction of a baseball stadium were part of a successful redevelopment of the Rose Quarter, the city could come out a winner on several fronts.

— Excerpt from The Oregonian Editorial, February 12, 2009

Video: Drew Mahalic interview

Oregon Sports Authority CEO Drew Mahalic is interviewed on KGW’s Live @ 7 program, discussing Portland’s connection with the Vancouver Olympics, as well as the possibility of Major League Soccer expansion and a new Beavers’ stadium.  Click below to watch the interview.

eUpdate – USA Cycling, NAIA Cross Country and Oregon Sports +20

The Oregon Sports Authority and Visit Bend are excited to announce that USA Cycling has awarded the 2009 and 2010 Junior, U23 and Elite Road National Championships to Bend. The announcement comes barely a month after Bend was awarded the 2009 and 2010 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships, and marks the first time that two USA Cycling national championships will be held in the same city in the same year. The road national championships will take place this summer, July 28 – August 2, while the cylco-cross championships are scheduled for December 10-13.

— Click below to view the entire Oregon Sports Authority eUpdate.

Portland considers Rose Quarter for baseball stadium

The Rose Quarter is now in the running for a new minor league baseball stadium as the city and the Trail Blazers explore how to boost business in the underperforming eastside entertainment zone.

The area has struggled to attract people to restaurants and shops on nights when the Rose Garden doesn’t have a basketball game or concert.

The Blazers wouldn’t own the baseball stadium; the city of Portland would. But a Triple A ballpark might complement other development that the Blazers have planned to bring more people to the quarter sandwiched between the Willamette River and Interstate 5.

“The arena has been successful in terms of the number of events that it has and the attendance it has,” said J.E. Isaac, the Blazers’ senior vice president for business affairs. “But the part that didn’t happen was the development that we thought would follow.”

City officials met Monday night with Portland Beavers baseball team owner Merritt Paulson and Blazers managers to discuss the idea. The city would need a new baseball stadium if Major League Soccer awards Portland a new franchise this year.

— Excerpt from The Oregonian, February 11, 2009

USA Cycling Awards Junior, U23 and Elite Road Nationals to Bend

Visit Bend today announced that USA Cycling has awarded the 2009 and 2010 Junior, U23 and Elite Road National Championships to Bend. Dates for the 2009 event are July 28 through August 2, and the announcement comes barely a month after Bend was awarded the 2009 & 2010 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. This marks the first time that two USA Cycling National Championships will be held in the same city in the same year.

“Bend has become a top destination for both recreational and competitive cycling, and USA Cycling is excited to be bringing another national championship race to Oregon,” said Tom Vinson, National Events Manager for USA Cycling. “Bend’s continued community-wide support and passion for cycling convinced us to award them an unprecedented two national championships in the same year.”

Officials from USA Cycling will visit Bend in the coming weeks to preview the race courses, meet with key stakeholders and begin the process of preparing for the event. The Road National Championships are expected to attract approximately 1,000 competitors to Bend each year for six days of racing, including a time trial, criterium and road race. More than 2,000 additional visitors, including support staff, families and media, are also expected attend the event annually.

Because of the timing of the event, which begins just two days after the conclusion of the Cascade Cycling Classic, many competitors and spectators are expected to remain in town for both events.

“The Road National Championships are a perfect fit with Visit Bend’s efforts to attract large events that will help our destination weather uncertain economic times,” said Doug LaPlaca, president and CEO of Visit Bend. “We are thankful to USA Cycling for the trust they have put in us by awarding not one, but two National Championships to Bend.”

Nationally-renown race director Chad Sperry, who has directed such races as the Cascade Cycling Classic, Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and the Tour of Utah, will serve as race director for the National Championships.

“Destination sporting events like the Road National Championships are a great way to increase awareness of Bend, with the added value of providing a significant economic boost to the community at the same time,” said Drew Mahalic, Executive Director of the Oregon Sports Authority, and supporter of Bend’s bid for the event. “Bringing events like this to Oregon is a great example of how tourism through sports can be used as an outstanding form of economic development during challenging times.”

Hosting major national sporting events is not new to Bend, which is home to the Cascade Cycling Classic – the longest continually-running elite stage race in the country, the XTERRA Trail Running National Championships, the USA Triathlon Winter Triathlon National Championships and the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships.