PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The best fans in the MLS will cheer their beloved Portland Timbers at the newly re-named Providence Park.
At a Monday afternoon news conference, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson announced the city-owned stadium’s name will change from JELD-WEN Field to Providence Park in a 15-year partnership deal with Providence Health.
Signage on the stadium will change soon, and JELD-WEN will continue to be a founding partner with the Timbers, officials said.
But a KOIN 6 News investigation shows the city is being accused of breaking the law by allowing backroom deals in the naming rights to the stadium.
Even the most competitive games on the pitch may not include as much back and forth and runaround as KOIN 6 News uncovered trying to determine what the city of Portland knows — or doesn’t know — about the naming rights at the stadium they own.
Just last week, Mayor Charlie Hales’ spokesperson said they’d heard the rumors the stadium name might change but they didn’t know for sure.
The paper trail proves the city has no idea how much money the Timbers owners are making on the naming rights to the stadium.
After the name change announcement, KOIN 6 News asked Paulson if the financial terms of the switch to Providence Park would be released publicly.
“No. Like with all our partnership agreements, those are kept confidential,” he said. When asked why it should remain confidential since Portland taxpayers own the stadium, he said, ” That’s the nature of those deals. That’s always been the case.”
Longtime stadium critic Peter Apanel has been after the city of Portland for months over this issue. His records request showed the only copy of the stadium naming rights deal the city of Portland has is a heavily redacted copy.
KOIN 6 News independently confirmed this.
“By the virtue of the fact they’ve concealed certain information from the public as part of this deal, they’ve actually violated state and federal laws,” Apanel said.
He’s filed a complaint with the Securites Exchange Commission, accusing the city of breaking the law by covering up the deal.
When KOIN 6 News asked the SEC, they replied with a two-word email: “Decline comment”
Paulson told KOIN 6 News on Monday he is not worried about the complaint. And no one with the City of Portland would comment on-camera.
But the city still owes $12 million for their contribution to the latest stadium renovation which turned it into a soccer-specific stadium.
Apanel suggests the city should be making money off of the naming rights to the stadium and use that money – instead of tax dollars – to pay off the construction bonds.
“That part of the deal just bugs the hell out of me because that’s, that’s crazy,” he said. “That was just such a bad deal from the beginning.”
KOIN 6 News found five other publicly owned soccer-specific in the MLS. Two teams – the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas – told KOIN 6 News they have similar deals to the new Portland Timbers deal. Team ownership gets all the naming rights revenue.
The other three teams did not respond.
A sports business expert at the University of Oregon told KOIN 6 News it’s common for team ownership to get 100% of stadium naming rights revenue, but said the city not knowing the financial terms would be rare.
Apanel is still hoping for a federal investigation.
“In this case the public certainly has a role and right to know these material facts because it’s their money and it’s their stadium and they haven’t been told all the facts for all this time now,” he said.