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Paulsons Push Portland for MLS Expansion

Merritt Paulson wants to bring MLS to Portland, Oregon. He’s willing to put up $40 million of his family’s fortune to get it done, but he also needs a “non-negotiable” $85 million subsidy from taxpayers to get the proposed stadium renovated. In this time of economic crisis, that kind of public bailout is a pretty unpersuasive pitch.

But if anyone knows bailouts, its Paulson. After all, his father is U.S. Secretary of State Henry Paulson, who just engineered the largest corporate bailout in world history. Prior to serving under President Bush, Henry Paulson was the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who stands to see a pretty penny of that bailout money. Prior to that, he worked in the Nixon administration for John Ehrlichman, who went to prison over the Watergate scandal. Wherever this guy goes, trouble seems to follow.

But Henry Paulson is filthy rich (an estimated fortune of over $750 million), and so the younger Paulson has already spent $16 million acquiring Portland’s USL soccer team and its AAA baseball team. Now, he is also looking to acquire an MLS squad, and he hopes to have public financing in place for the renovation of PGE Park in time for the MLS Expansion vote in early 2009.

He may just get that financing too. The incoming mayor, Sam Adams (no joke), has thrown his support behind the project, as has city council commissioner Randy Leonard. Paulson, Adams and Leonard think Portland could profit from having an MLS team, while others believe the public subsidies needed to acquire the team risk never being repaid.

The fact is, even after a decade in existence, MLS is still not in the black. While a few teams (like the Galaxy) can turn a nice profit, overall the league is still losing money on a yearly basis. Paulson asserts a Portland franchise will be making money within three to five years, but the numbers certainly do not seem to support his contention. With nearby Seattle getting the 15th franchise, and no team yet allocated to any city in the entire southeastern U.S. (home of a huge percentage of our Latino citizens), I don’t feel Portland will likely be chosen as one of the 17th or 18th franchises.

If Paulson doesn’t get his MLS team, he can always go back to playing with his other toys (i.e., the Timbers and the Beavers, yes that’s right, the Beavers). His father will have more time to help him too, as his stint as Treasury Secretary is almost certain to an end the second Obama takes office. Like the younger Paulson said when recently asked about his plan: “All I’m doing is presenting an opportunity . . . I’m not holding a gun to anyone’s head.”

Well, at least not yet.