05.06.09

Portland LumberJax, R.I.P.

Posted in consumer affairs, Lacrosse, Sports Journalism at 3:45 pm by

Writing about the demise of Portland’s NLL team, the LumberJax, the Oregonian‘s John Canzano seems especially ungracious and misguided.

Ungracious, because… well, let me just perform a little surgery on a few excerpts:

The market does not lie. And sponsors decided minor league lacrosse that advertising in the daily newspaper wasn’t a must-have. So did regular families who have to make responsible decisions about where to spend their disposable income. I suspect those businesses and families would make a more ambitious decision if they felt what they were buying was grand….

According to the lacrosse team, sponsorship dollars fell more than $300,000 from a year ago. Which is only to say that businesses realized there were better places to spend. And so we’ve arrived at the moment in which the lacrosse team will begin looking for another home newspapers go out of business.

And misguided because elsewhere he implies the city’s planned new MLS team means that Portland no longer needs to trifle with the smaller sports. Which is fine, but let’s not pretend the MLS Portland Timbers or its AAA baseball sister franchise will be market-driven, profit-making entities – they are entities that might make money, a possibility that is still entirely dependent on whether or not the city helps them renovate the stadium and put together a new baseball park.

Obviously a lacrosse team isn’t going to get that kind of deal. Unless it’s owned by a bigger franchise (as in Colorado) or enjoys primary tenancy (as in suburban Chicago) most lacrosse teams basically exist for as long as their owners believe in what they’re doing and are willing to lose money, something that certainly describes Canzano’s ultimate boss Si Newhouse too. So it’s hardly a surprise this day would come. The team wouldn’t have existed without the economic boom (owner Angela Batinovich’s father is in REITs), so it can’t exist during the economic bust.

The Jax also benefited from starting while the Blazers were still loathed (not because of the Jail Blazers but rather the bankruptcy of Paul Allen’s arena holding company, and public threats to sell the team). Talk of trying to keep the franchise alive in Seattle actually makes sense, because you’ve got no in-season competition, with an empty building – even the junior hockey franchise has moved elsewhere -which might give the team a better deal. The LumberJax did have a quality product, but a niche product, and now they’ll need a business model that’s not based on the 2005 economy. After all, the NLL almost cancelled the whole season last year.

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