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Sports do thrive in this town

MY VIEW • Not much major league, but we still love to play

I attended a recent City Club of Portland event where Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Beavers and Timbers, and Larry Miller, president of the Portland Trail Blazers, participated on a panel discussing Portland’s viability as a “sports city.” I agree with Paulson and Miller that Portland is justified in calling itself a sports city. In my 12 years of leading the Oregon Sports Authority, I have seen firsthand how the people of Oregon support not only our sports franchises and activities, but the national and international sporting events held throughout the state. If one looks more closely, there’s plenty of evidence that Oregon is a strong sports state, demonstrated most recently by the official launch of our Central Oregon chapter last fall. The mission of the Oregon Sports Authority is to create economic development in Oregon through athletics and position the state as the preferred location for sports events, franchises and related activities. Over the past 15 years, in partnership with Oregon businesses, individuals and civic organizations, the Oregon Sports Authority has generated approximately $120 million for the state’s economy through sports tourism. While the nation has been watching the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Oregon Sports Authority has been preparing for the first and second rounds of the 2009 tournament, which will take place at the Rose Garden. It has been 25 years since Oregon last hosted the tournament because the NCAA does not allow the event to take place in states that allow betting on sports. In 2005, the Oregon Sports Authority introduced a legislative bill to eliminate such betting while also increasing funding for college athletics. When the bill passed, we joined with the University of Oregon, the Rose Quarter and Travel Portland to submit a successful bid to the NCAA. From the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where we achieved the second-highest total attendance in the event’s 91-year history, to sellout crowds for international events like the recent Davis Cup World Final at Memorial Coliseum and the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup semifinals at PGE Park, our state has an established record of support for premier athletic events. Oregon also is home to a number of successful sporting events that have become both annual traditions and economic development drivers, including the Portland Marathon, the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LiveStrong Challenge, and the AST Dew Tour. Last December, Portland welcomed the 2007 Davis Cup World Final to Memorial Coliseum with open arms, representing yet another victory for both the Oregon Sports Authority and the entire region as more than 60 percent of ticket holders traveled from outside Oregon to watch the Davis Cup. None of this could have been achieved if Oregon, and Portland in particular, lacked the right appetite and aptitude for sports. We look forward to continuing to raise awareness of Portland as a sports city and Oregon as a sports state, elevating the Oregon sports landscape to an even higher level. Drew Mahalic is CEO of the Oregon Sports Authority. He lives in Southwest Portland.