SBD/March 18, 2011/Franchises

Timbers Set To Make MLS Debut With Great Support In Portland Market

The Timbers will make their MLS debut Saturday, supported by a Portland soccer market that is the third-best among U.S. cities with MLS teams, according to Rachel Bachman of the Portland OREGONIAN, which ranked all 15 U.S. MLS cities based on "everything from youth participation to national-team players to supporters' groups." The Timbers' ranking is "likely to rise with the Timbers' attendance this season, as season tickets have sold out and single-game tickets are selling fast." Timbers Owner Merritt Paulson said, "The level of the passion in the soccer fans here is deeper to the core than other cities." But Bachman notes for now, San Jose "is Soccer City USA" and DC is "the runner-up." San Jose, home to the Earthquakes, "ranked at or near the top in several categories, which were adjusted for local population, including home attendance in the NASL and last season in MLS." Although the Earthquakes "averaged an MLS-worst 9,659 in average attendance last season, they rated better than average in that category when the data were adjusted for San Jose's 1.8 million people -- third-smallest metro area in the league." Seattle, which "executed one of the most successful franchise launches in major-sports history two years ago when the Sounders joined MLS, finished a surprising fifth." The market "scored well in attendance rankings -- the Sounders lead the MLS in attendance by a mile -- but suffered for not winning college soccer titles or sending players to World Cup teams." The following chart shows the OREGONIAN's rankings of all MLS markets in the U.S. (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/18).

SOCCER CITY USA RANKINGS
RANK
CITY
RANK
CITY
1
San Jose
9
Columbus
2
DC
10
Houston
3
Portland
11
Boston
4
L.A.
12
Chicago
5
Seattle
13
Denver
6
N.Y.
14
K.C.
7
Philadelphia
15
Dallas
8
Salt Lake City
 
   
 

LOYAL FANS IN TROUBLE?
In Portland, John Canzano writes the Timbers' MLS debut is a "wake-up call" for the team's fan group, the Timbers Army. The "drumming, chanting, soulful people who wear scarves and cheer for the MLS team provide some good stadium atmosphere," but the Timbers Army is "now less important and influential than it has ever been." The Timbers franchise has "always been careful to tip-toe around the organized rowdies, trying to keep them pacified while pulling hair out attempting to widen the fan base." But with more than 12,000 season tickets sold for the first MLS season in Jeld-Wen Field, and a "product that promises to have wider appeal by summer, the Timbers Army is on unofficial notice." Canzano writes, "MLS is still not on the level of the other major league sports, but I believe this soccer thing in Portland ends up a blue ocean. Season-ticket bonanza. Great summer weather coming. Sponsors such as Widmer Brothers Brewing have already angled for stadium exclusivity, paying big dollars to lock out competition. And as a result, I'm convinced that ownership and team management understands that it's new best customer is not the rowdy in the scarf." Watching Paulson "manage his fan base" is going to be a "fascinating experiment." It also is "going to be interesting to see how the Timbers Army shifts, as it becomes surrounded (and even joined) by young families who have their own ideas" (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/18).

WHITE HOUSE: The Vancouver Whitecaps also will make their MLS debut this season, and the GLOBE & MAIL's David Ebner wrote under the header, "Whitecaps Riding The Crest Of The Wave Into MLS Opener." The Whitecaps, with "four decades of history in other leagues, arrive in MLS with sponsorship cash that rivals any club in the league." The team will make its debut Saturday at home in a "Canadian clash" against Toronto FC, a game televised nationally on TSN. As of Thursday, the home opener had not "lured a sellout crowd," as the Whitecaps "remain a couple thousand short of the 21,500 capacity" at Empire Field. But the team "has sold 15,500 season tickets, even though it doesn't play a game in its real home, BC Place, until early autumn, when the downtown stadium's publicly funded half-billion-dollar renovation is finished" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/17).
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Portland Timbers, MLS, Franchises, Soccer

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