Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 46
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Forty Under 40

When Merritt Paulson was working his first sports job, running marketing and business development for the NBA’s League Pass and NBA TV, he tried as often as he could to duck his head into the league’s well-regarded team marketing division. He even went so far as to attend seminars that the division ran for teams in the D-League, even when that meant traveling.

“I tried to pick [the marketing division’s] brain as much as I could,” said Paulson, who left the NBA in 2007 to lead a group that bought the minor league soccer and baseball franchises in Portland. “I was always up front with David [Stern] and Adam [Silver] about longer-term ambitions I had. I was conscious of keeping strong relationships with those guys and not being disingenuous.”

Team ownership was in Paulson’s plans from the time he got into sports. The son of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, with a Harvard MBA to boot, he knew he had both the pedigree and the connections to put together an ownership group if he could find the right opportunity. In 2007, he found one after a three-year search. In Portland, he saw a pair of minor league franchises — one in Class AAA baseball, the other in the United Soccer Leagues — that hadn’t offered an upside. He signed local TV deals for both franchises, then turned his sights toward a publicly funded stadium renovation and a vault into Major League Soccer.

Heading into this, their second MLS season, the Timbers renewed more than 97 percent of season tickets, building a base of 14,750 with a waiting list of 6,500.

“I always knew I was in a unique and enviable position where I was going to have some backing if I had a plan that I could sell at the right time,” Paulson said. “I’ve always been attracted to entrepreneurial endeavors. That’s what excites me more than anything.”

Age: 39
Titles: Owner and president
Team: Portland Timbers
Education: B.A., English, Hamilton College, 1995; MBA, Harvard Business School
Family: Wife, Heather; two daughters
Career: Last title was NBA senior director of marketing and business development, responsible for marketing and business development efforts of NBA TV and NBA League Pass; assumed ownership of the Timbers in 2007; team named the 18th MLS franchise in March 2009
FIRST JOB: Caddie at a golf club
Last vacation: Hawaii, in February
what's on your ipod? Guns N’ Roses, The Killers, Ryan Adams, Shooter Jennings
Guilty pleasure: Taylor Swift music
Best stress release: Working out
Pet peeve: People who are late
Fantasy job: Helicopter ski guide
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT: Fear of complacency
Business advice: Of indecisive paralysis or making a mistake, the former is the more insidious organizational issue. That’s a fancy way of saying Teddy Roosevelt’s man-in-the-arena thing. Get in the ring and fight it out.