Paul Allen's Spokespeople: Blazers Going to Hell

February, 24, 2006
2/24/06
12:07
AM ET
This is the kind of news that precedes some very tough negotiating with someone. William McCall of the Associated Press is reporting that Paul Allen's people are saying the Blazers are in dire financial straits, "all options" (presumably selling or moving the team--or at least threatening such things) are on the table, and most chillingly, these are problems they intend to fix now:
Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, has lost more than $12 billion on various investments in the past decade, and his NBA team has been hemorrhaging money for much of that time.

He had to sell off his interest in the Rose Garden Arena, the home of the Blazers, after the company that ran it, Oregon Arena Corp., declared bankruptcy.

Conn told AP that Allen has decided it is time to cut his losses with the Trail Blazers _ or find a new way to finance the team.

"No business person could justify these kinds of losses continuing," Conn said.

He said Vulcan has invested $600 million in the team and the arena since 1988 but has yet to see a profit.

Conn also said the arena lease "is recognized as one of the worst in the NBA."

In a comparison with the Key Arena lease for the Seattle SuperSonics, Conn said the Trail Blazers receive no revenue for suites, clubs, courtside seats, game concessions or parking.

The Sonics, by comparison, receive 40 percent of the revenue for suites, 60 percent for clubs, and 100 percent for courtside seats, game concessions and parking.

NBA Commissioner David Stern recently told AP that he considered the Seattle lease "the least competitive lease in the league, which is a decided economic disadvantage."

But Conn said the Blazers' lease is "far worse" than the Sonics' lease.
I can't believe the billionaire geniuses who have made all the decisions for this team most of my adult life are now going to play the victim card of all things.

If not the owner, then who is responsible for all this?

And, are you telling me that you have less faith in the future of this team than I do?

Paul Allen seems like a smart guy, and an interesting guy, but clearly he's not someone who knows how to run a successful businnes, despite starting with the advantage of billions upon billions. Most of his businesses are full-time dreams (and it's not like I'm stodgy; this is coming from a guy who founded and runs a blog agency, for crying out loud).

But, I mean, one of his other big businesses is space tourism.

He's like an NBA player who negotiates a massive long-term contract, and then gets bitter as hell in its final years because it seems like they could have done better. Should have thought of that when you signed in the first place! The Rose Garden contract sucks? Who created it? The fans don't love the team? They loved it before you came along.

My feelings about Allen are complex. I have loved having a hobbyist owner lavish excessive millions upon the team, the great sugardaddy spoiling us all rotten with lottery picks all those years. But his part-time passion, his being based in another city (or on a yacht), his billionaire's recluse, his weird fraternizing with the likes of Geena Davis, and his non-take-charge attitude that allowed all sorts of shoddiness--those are enough straws on this camel's back that I just simply won't tolerate any whining from this guy.

Paul Allen, you don't like owning the team? Sell it. You like owning the team? Then stop whining, roll up your sleeves, and fix it.

UPDATE: The Oregonian has more: seems like this is all about getting tax dollars.
the team is approaching state and local government at a time when purse strings are tight and fan support for the struggling team is low. The team also faces a potential public relations challenge in persuading government officials to consider giving any financial assistance to Allen, the seventh richest man in the world.

"That's always going to be a question in the public's mind," said Dennis Howard, a professor with University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. But "there's a lot of other wealthy owners out there for whom the community has been very generous with public support."

A team spokesman declined to comment Thursday on whether Allen might move the Blazers from Portland if he doesn't receive the help he is requesting.

So far, the team has remained tight-lipped about potential partnership scenarios. In meetings with Kulongoski, Multnomah County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Diane Linn and Metro president David Bragdon, the team has offered updates of its financial situation. They also discussed the economic benefits the Trail Blazers and Allen's now-defunct Oregon Arena Corp. which previously owned the Rose Garden - have provided to the community, Blazers and government spokespeople said.

The team also broached the topic of working together in a public-private alliance, although no specifics were discussed, said Trail Blazers spokesman Art Sasse.
This is modern model of sports financing laid bare: billionaires asking for handouts. It's unfair to single out Paul Allen in this--it happens in practically every city, and it's lousy. If only voters across the country could all agree not to pay, then every city could still have teams--just with lower expenses. Instead, there's always another city (Oklahoma, step right this way!) ready to step in with the cash.

By the way, if Paul Allen really wanted to work the "woe is me" PR strategy, he'd be better off not threatening to move the team (which implies value), but to shut it down entirely and declare bankruptcy. If that were on the table, he'd be making headlines, and people would really believe he was serious about the money troubles. But since it isn't on the table, I think it's safe to assume that we're all just going to twiddle our thumbs until he curls up on the yacht and start writing checks again.

One last point: I find it amusing that his spokesman said no business person would put up with the kind of losses he has sustained. Wait, it's a business now? When did that start? Because he has been running the Blazers like his shiny new toy--one indulgence after another for most of his time as an owner. He only even made budget a concern at all in the last few years, after he had already signed the papers to doom the team's future income by signing away all the stadium-based revenue streams. That was bad business that is not the fault of taxpayers.

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