SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Virginia, Portland state their cases for bases

Two markets are pressing their case as the best destination for a troubled Major League Baseball team looking for a new home.

Supporters of baseball in northern Virginia released a study last week that concluded there would be little impact on the neighboring Baltimore Orioles if a team were located there.

At the same time, Portland baseball backers hosted MLB consultant Cory Busch for two days as he continued his research on which markets are the best sites for a franchise.

Even though baseball is talking about dissolving several troubled franchises, and three of the last four expansion teams have not fared as well as expected, the contenders feel baseball can succeed in their market.

"There are concerns, but when you compare, this market is so much larger," said Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia Baseball Authority. "It wouldn't be a mistake locating a club here."

The Oregon Baseball Campaign's Lynn Lashbrook said baseball would benefit from the lack of major professional sports options in the largest U.S. city without an MLB team. Supporters there contend that Portland's 23,000-seat PGE Park is a suitable home until a new ballpark can be built.

"Portland, with only the [NBA] Trail Blazers and as the 22nd-largest market, is the most underserved community in America sports-wise," Lashbrook said. "With a half-dozen struggling franchises on its hands, baseball and these struggling teams are not going to turn down a perfect interim stadium and a new ballpark being built."

There are other contenders. The Hampton Roads-Newport News area of Virginia is expected to release a study in the next month showing whether its corporate community could support a major pro franchise.

In California, the city of Santa Clara is studying the economic feasibility of luring the Oakland A's, who are seeking a new venue in the affluent Silicon Valley when their lease at the Network Associates Coliseum expires after 2004.

An A's move to Santa Clara or San Jose, however, would be opposed by the San Francisco Giants, who say surveys show that 30 percent of their fans come from that area, a figure the A's counter is more than double the real number.

The Orioles, who have been an attendance juggernaut since Camden Yards opened in 1992, have opposed franchises in northern Virginia or Washington, D.C., on the grounds that the competition would hurt their bottom line.

Paul said he believed the northern Virginia study debunked that fear. The report, which cost $175,000 to compile, found that the Orioles draw 13 percent of their fans from the northern Virginia-Washington market area. While not an insignificant number, it is far less than the 22 percent that the Orioles claim.

The study further found that the Orioles' sponsorship and advertising revenues would only be marginally affected, while media revenues might actually rise because of competition between local regional sports networks.

"Our only problem has been the perception that Baltimore would be forever hurt if a club returned to the area," Paul said. "This [study] backs what we've been saying."

The Orioles, however, do not appear to be swayed. Public relations director Bill Stetka has noted the difference in the survey's number with the team's own poll. He also told one newspaper that the lower number also could be construed as a sign that "northern Virginia is not ready for Major League Baseball."

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