I’m very baffled by all the hate Portland gets. I mean, when it comes to winning the league, the Reign have dominated. When it comes to winning championships, FCKC have dominated. Admittedly, three years isn’t much of a sample size, but it’s what we’ve got. The only place the Thorns have dominated is with attendance, with commercial success. Which is a positive thing for the league as a whole.
I sort of get why people would be frustrated if they feel like the Thorns are spoiled. My understanding is that Merritt Paulson pretty much made getting Alex Morgan a condition of starting up the team (and this is the main example I’ve seen of special treatment).
But think about this from a practical perspective. The league wants to be successful. It looks around and sees a city that, just a few years prior, managed to join the MLS and immediately begin selling out every game. I mean from the word go. I don’t think they’ve ever not sold out in the MLS era.
The NWSL thinks there’s room for a women’s team, and they think the fans might be supportive. So they pitch it to the Timbers owner.
He’s also looking at it from a practical perspective. He’s not like, “Oh, these sweet little ladies need my charity.” He’s like, “Will this be a successful business venture?” So he comes up with a plan to make it successful, and part of that plan is launching with a massively popular star, someone who can be the face of the team.
He tells the league he’ll only do it if he gets Alex Morgan. The leagues says OK, because their main goal is the success of the league, and they think this team could contribute to that.
I can see why this would frustrate other teams. But at the same time, lots of other teams have some really big stars. Morgan would probably have had a solid impact for them (and sold a lot of jerseys). But, considering that none of them had an MLS team attached, they probably wouldn’t have come close to the sort of success, commercially, that Portland has managed.
Portland did an outstanding job of taking Timbers fans and making them Thorns fans. They didn’t market to young girls and their parents. They marketed to adults with disposable income. Which is genius, and also super obvious. A beer at Providence Park costs almost as much as a ticket to the Thorns. So if people are there and drinking 2-4 beers, you’re making way more money off them at concessions than you are on ticket sails.
Compare that to, say, Seattle, which plays in a high school stadium and cannot sell beer, and you can see why the one has been much better able to both draw crowds and capitalize on them.
Which is not to say that teams should only target people who drink. It’s to say that they should target everyone, but especially those with disposable income. I cringe every time I see a commercial on a stream from another park, where they seem to target their pitch exclusively at school-aged girls who play soccer.
That is not how you have a successful sports franchise.
Imagine if the NFL only tried to sell tickets to pee-wee football players. It’s an absurd strategy.
Paulson (and many other people, I assume) crafted a strategy to create a viable business. It was very successful. Shortly thereafter, the NWSL tried this same approach with Houston. Which is now their second most attended team.
They’re doing it again in Orlando, and here, the Alex Morgan thing comes full circle. The Thorns don’t need her anymore. They aren’t reliant on her to draw people in. They can let her go. They aren’t going to do so cheaply, because that would be a really, really stupid business choice, so they try to wring everything they can from the trade. That’s just good business.
Now, Orlando gets to launch its team with the most popular USWNT player as their star as well.
I genuinely hope it works for them.
Because here’s the thing: I want the whole league to be successful. I might enjoy talking shit about how Seattle plays in a high school stadium, but you know what I would like even better? If they didn’t. I would love it if they played in the Clink, and could draw in a crowd to make that practical. I would be ecstatic.
I want the entire league to be successful. I want it to grow. I want it to be viable. I want it to be long term.
So taking that view, I don’t understand why people hate Portland so much. They are really, really good for the entire league.