Showman Ain't A Dirty Word

His father built a sports empire; he helped build an arena. Now a seasoned Marshall Glickman wants a chance to build minor-league sports as family entertainment

October 14, 1999  |  The Sunday Oregonian  |  By Roger Anthony

No matter where he goes in Portland, Marshall Glickman's reputation always gets there first.

As they say, bad news travels fast.

The funny thing is, Glickman's image—one he naturally disavows—is built on many of the personality traits and business achievements he's proudest of.

It's just that the words chosen to describe them often reverse the spin.

Glickman's image?

It's the difference between "deal-maker" and "wheeler-dealer."

It's the difference between "smooth" and "slick."

It's the difference between "tough" and "ruthless."

It's the difference between "dreaming" and "scheming," between "planning" and "plotting," between "hard worker" and "workaholic."

But there is one point of agreement—though even here, interpretations differ:

Marshall Glickman is different from his father, Harry.

He's proud of that. Over the years, a lot of people have been let down by that.

That's why, as he turns 40, Marshall Glickman—the man who quarterbacked the Trail Blazers through both the Rose Garden arena project and the Rip City Diner fiasco—is eager for his second chance to make a first impression.

Glickman and his partner Mark Gardiner are about to stake a claim on The Future of Portland Sports—or at least, that wedge of the Portland sports pie not controlled by the Trail Blazers. Their partnership, Portland Family Entertainment, is poised to take over operation of Civic Stadium next year in a public-private partnership.

The tentative agreement approved by the City Council on July 7 later generated controversy when Mayor Vera Katz acknowledged that when council members voted on the deal, they didn't know how much potential profit Glickman and his partners could realize. Various analyses done by the city show the partnership's average annual return over 20 years between 32 percent and 55 percent, before taxes.

In the past two months, Portland Family Entertainment has agreed on deals that would leave it owning three professional sports teams. If everything goes according to plan—the definitive documents are due to be signed this winter—PFE will stage about 140 events in 2001, on a scale ranging from major-league baseball exhibitions to concerts to Northwest League baseball games played wherever the Portland Rockies wind up.

It's a logical legacy for Glickman—whose father, after all, is also The Father of Portland Sports.

Now 75, Harry Glickman put Portland on the map, athletically speaking. In the '50s, he promoted boxing matches and National Football League exhibitions at Civic Stadium; in the '60s he operated the Portland Buckaroos, a minor-league hockey dynasty that packed Memorial Coliseum. In 1970 he founded the Portland Trail Blazers, who 29 years later remain the city's only big-league franchise. His autobiography, "Promoter Ain't a Dirty Word," effectively serves as a modern history of professional sports in Portland.

Harry Glickman had a Midas touch at the box office and a velvet touch with the public. Even as the Trail Blazer organization grew, Harry Glickman seemed to treat Portland not so much as customers but as a large, extended family.

Though Marshall Glickman insists otherwise—"I swore I would have nothing to do with the Portland Trail Blazers," he says now—it was hard for him to stay away from an organization that in the mid-'70s still bore the look of a family business. (He did start at the bottom, though: His first job was as a ball boy.) Later, when the founder's son began moving toward the top of the organization in the '80s, no one was surprised.

But by 1991, a lot of people were angry. By then, Marshall Glickman had proved to everyone that he was different from Harry Glickman.

''That's not a fair comparison to make," says Gardiner, Glickman's principal partner in PFE. With the Trail Blazers, Gardiner contends, Glickman was often the spokesman for decisions made by someone else. "Marshall was put in situations where there was no way to come out positive."

Even so, the comparisons come so naturally that Gardiner himself soon offers one. "There was a difference in style between Harry and Marshall," he says. "Marshall was younger and brasher and more emotional. He had some rough edges. He's more seasoned now. He's matured a ton."

A former financial officer for the City of Portland, Gardiner has served as a consultant for a number of stadium and arena projects on the West Coast and throughout the country. He admits to being part of what he calls "the little subculture of stadium and arena dweebs"—people for whom the phrase "contractually obligated income" is as awe-inspiring as a Sammy Sosa shot to the Wrigley Field bleachers.

Gardiner and Glickman met while the Trail Blazers were pursuing the Rose Garden arena deal, with Glickman ultimately hiring Gardiner to work for the club. The two became friends before they became partners—something of a departure for Glickman, who says that most of his close friends go back to his early years.

In speaking of his partner, Gardiner describes a man who's an extraordinarily quick study, a hard and intuitive worker and a very quick thinker. "He's very productive...very hard to keep up with," Gardiner says. "He has a strong personality, and you have to have a strong personality to work for him."

Above all, he bemoans the durability of an image that crystallized so quickly 8 1/2 years ago. "It shows that people don't know how important he was in keeping the Trail Blazers in Portland," Gardiner says. "The Rip City Diner is such an insignificant thing compared to what he's done."

Eight years later, Marshall Glickman points out that he was right about the Rip City Diner. After all the hoopla from May 1991 died down, the now-defunct restaurant on Northeast Sandy Boulevard eventually became a topless joint.

That was one concern the Blazers expressed in claiming they had trademark rights to the phrase "Rip City," which had been popularized (though not coined) by longtime radio voice Bill Schonely. With the team about to take on Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA semifinals—with the city holding its breath on a second NBA title—the Blazers threatened legal action against the fledgling diner and Rip City T's, a small shirt company operated by a Portland State University student.

The point man for the legal assault was Marshall Glickman, marketing director.

The ensuing reaction underscored the notion that while nobody loves Goliath, talk-show hosts and wisecracking newspaper columnists love beating up on a Goliath who's petty, arrogant, mean-spirited, churlish and crass—to pick a random sample of adjectives used at the time.

"It struck a chord," Glickman concedes now. In the Coliseum stands, rather than chanting "Beat L.A.!" fans took to holding up signs with the trademark logo—a circled TM—and the phrase "Trade Marshall." Worse, the Blazers, with the best record in the NBA that year, were upset by the Lakers in six games.

It wasn't an isolated incident, however. Longtime sponsors and season-ticketholders began to complain about the organization's attitude toward them. Everyone seemed to have a horror story about the team's Blazer Cable package, be it a game-night technical failure or the abrupt cancellation of service at the neighborhood tavern just as the playoffs began. Finally, in July 1992, the younger Glickman spoke at a news conference about a snag in negotiations between the city and the team over the Rose Garden arena. "If we don't have an answer by Friday," Marshall Glickman said, "we pull the plug."

No one could recall Harry Glickman publicly threatening the City Council.

"We live in a media society," Marshall Glickman says now. "We all judge people based on an image that comes to us through the media. That's not a knock on the media...that's just the way it is in the '90s.

"At a very young age, I was running an organization that was very well known. I did a good job. But I'd do it differently today."

Glickman's problems as Blazer frontman couldn't have been a surprise to those who've known him. People in and near the organization knew about the temper, the volcanic eruptions directed at staffers and Rose Garden employees. "Not a lot of us were very fond of him," says Grace Grantham, who worked as an usher and ticket taker at Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden. Others who worked or socialized with him picked up a whiff of arrogance—in the office, sure, but even during games of pickup basketball at the Multnomah Athletic Club.

Moreover, his career to that point had been propelled by hard work and instincts. Genealogy aside, nothing in his background suggested a career in professional sports.

At Lewis & Clark College, Glickman majored in English literature. He got jobs working in record stores such as Music Millennium and Longhair Music.

"At that point, I was disinterested in working in sports," he recalls. He didn't dislike sports per se: Growing up, he played youth hockey. But he didn't inherit his father's rage-at-the-refs competitiveness—a trait that compelled the elder Glickman to make sure his seats at Trail Blazer games were far from courtside. "Besides," Marshall Glickman adds, "you don't want to work for your dad. Who does? I wanted to make it my way."

So in 1981, Glickman moved to Los Angeles, where he got a job helping produce jazz programs for African American radio stations. He'd already met Blazer hero Bill Walton, but now he got to meet Wolfman Jack. His travels often took him past Capitol Records' famous round building in Hollywood, and he recalls going past the small theater building in which an old talk-show host named Merv Griffin was trying to launch a game show called "Wheel of Fortune." The Dodgers won the World Series that fall. "That's when I first started liking baseball," Glickman says now. He'd just turned 22.

Marshall Glickman has returned to Portland twice—first from L.A., then from New York. The second time he came back to Portland, it was for love. "I'd gotten engaged in New York to a woman who was also from Portland," he explains now.

But the first time he came back—from L.A., in 1982—the attraction wasn't quite so poetic. The attraction, actually, was pay television.

Glickman got a job as a salesman for OnTV, a pre-cable version of subscription television. "I learned how to sell then," he says. "Going from door to door." That led to a job with Rogers Cable, which in turn led him back to the Trail Blazers and a job with Blazer Broadcasting.

Selling came naturally, for Glickman is a prolific talker, a man with more words than Microsoft has megabytes. He talked to customers. He talked with Jon Spoelstra, the man then in charge of the Blazers' business side. He talked with an NBA executive by the name of David Stern, a vice-president at the time who would be named commissioner in 1984. "I called him up because he had a reputation at the time for being very into technology," Glickman says. He talked to everyone he could think of—with one exception. "I refused to talk to my father in the office."

The conversations with Stern led to an offer from the NBA office in New York.

Glickman loved everything about New York; the city suited him temperamentally: "The tempo. The level of intensity. The general yelling and screaming...I wish I'd stayed and played that scene out for a longer period."

Instead, not yet 30, he returned to Portland in July 1988 as the Trail Blazers' director of business development. Shortly after he took the job, Microsoft millionaire Paul Allen purchased the team.

With Allen's blessing, Glickman spent the next seven years repositioning the Trail Blazers as an entertainment company rather than a basketball franchise. Emulating Spoelstra, Glickman got the Blazers involved in a variety of nonbasketball projects. The club moved into television production, into advertising, into concert promotion and even into concessions. He came up with a five-year ticket plan that helped lure ticketholders out of Memorial Coliseum and into the expensive new arena. He spearheaded the construction of the Rose Garden arena, which opened in the fall of 1995.

Divorced by then, Marshall Glickman was consumed by work: Vacations were simply the times when he wasn't working 16 hours a day. It was a pace maintained by relatively few English lit majors.

"I was winging it," Glickman says of those days. "It's not a bad way to learn."

Glickman left the Trail Blazers in November 1995, a month after the Rose Garden opened. Neither he nor the organization have seen their images improve much since,

But several people who've dealt with Glickman lately suggest that it might be worth re-examining his bad-guy reputation.

Patricia Gardner is the president of the Goose Hollow Foothills League. In that role, she's sat across the table from Glickman in a number of meetings about Civic Stadium and its impact on the neighborhood. Gardner came to Portland six years ago—post-Rip City Diner, in other words. But still...

"I had been counseled about him, with a lot of apprehension," she says. "People told me to be careful."

So far, she says, "He's been trying hard to be honest, and up-front."

Frank Bird, president emeritus of the Northwest District Association, concurs. "So far, he's been an open book. He's a hometown boy, and I see him as a man who's trying to do the right thing with a new opportunity."

Barry Strafacci came to Portland last fall to manage Civic Stadium until Portland Family Entertainment takes over. Like Bird, he senses that some part of Glickman sees the PFE project as a chance for redemption. "He's from here, and he takes a lot of pride in that," Strafacci says. "And I think he sees this as a second chance."

It's a nice thought, but Mark Gardiner doesn't quite buy it. "He doesn't see this as a do-over," Glickman's partner says. "He sees it as something fun to do that will keep him in Portland."

The Portland Power. The Portland Rage. The Sea-Port Cascades. The Portland Timbers. The Portland Beavers. Remember them?

Perhaps because it sees itself as a big-league city, Portland has never welcomed minor-league sports franchises with open arms or wallets. Pacific Coast League baseball ~- the building block upon which PFE's plans are built—has already failed twice at Civic Stadium. The financial projections that generated much of August's controversy about the stadium deal were based on projected attendance figures that Pacific Coast League clubs in Portland have never come close to reaching.

Steve "Dream" Weaver can see the possibilities, however. Weaver came to Portland in 1984 with the now-defunct Portland Breakers football team. He's served as promotions director for Portland State University athletics and done radio play-by-play for the Portland Pride (indoor soccer) and Portland Forest Dragons (arena football). He's currently hosting a sports-talk show on tiny KGUY radio. He knows Portland, and he knows the minor leagues.

"Jack Cain did a terrific job with the Portland Rockies," Weaver says. "If they operate the way the Cains do, the Triple-A team will do fine. One of the problems with sports is that they've forgotten about the fan. It's all corporate now. Nobody has gone out and sold to Mom and Dad.

Is Marshall Glickman the man for the job? "Well, there are a lot of people who are not Marshall Glickman fans," Weaver says. "They remember the PR gaffes and the strong-arm style. People fear that might happen again."

Indeed, Goose Hollow's Patricia Gardner can see where Portlanders who follow first impressions might be skeptical. "He comes across as slick," she acknowledges. "It's all right, though. II

Glickman also comes across as smart, something everyone agrees on. With a balance sheet in his hand, he's brilliant. Face to face, he's still working on it. Mark Gardiner says that the 40-year-old version of Marshall Glickman "is more likely to think a bit before he says something. He's a real straight shooter, and sometimes that gets you into trouble."

Glickman himself mentions one lesson he's tried to learn from David Stern: "I've never met anyone who can turn enemies into friends quicker than he can."

To the cynical, Glickman unquestionably sounds slick when touting the virtues of the minor-league sports empire he's trying to build. Of the late '90s NBA he says, "I don't like what it's become. It's about bucks, bucks, bucks...me, me, me."

But then he adds: "ln the 1980s, the Portland Trail Blazers grew not because they had great teams, but because people could relate to them. I'm making an effort to turn back to that, and it's only possible at the minor-league level."

"I'm selling entertainment. Family entertainment. And I feel good about that."

Could Harry Glickman have said it any better?