Game day at Providence Park is a spectacle to behold. The army of red shirts pours into the stadium, lights up the game, and flows around the sidewalks of town before and after the competition. Tickets sell out amid massive buzz for every event, to the point where excited fans are happy to pick them up from independent ticket resellers outside the gates. Prices are fair so nobody’s complaining, this is all part of the hype.
What’s all the commotion about? The Portland Thorns are playing.
21,000 fans routinely pack Providence Park to see the Thorns, a professional women’s soccer team that has taken the local community by storm. The Thorns have continued to grow in popularity for the five seasons that they’ve been playing. In 2017 they drew an average attendance of 17,653 fans. To put this into perspective, it’s more than 15 of the teams in the NBA, 13 of the teams in the NHL, and one of the MLB teams.
The Thorns aren’t just a women’s team success. They’re a sports franchise success in every sense.
There’s No Magic Formula for the Thorns’ Success
If you could take this success, create a model of it, and replicate it, then the Thorns would be selling a winning formula to sports teams around the country and around the world.
Merritt Paulson, the team owner, has said that there’s no “fairy dust that’s unique to Portland.” He comments that there are other great soccer markets in the country and that the National Women’s Soccer League has the potential to succeed elsewhere.
One element may be that the city has had strong support for U.S. soccer since 1975, when the men’s professional team was first launched. The Portland Trail Blazers (NBA) are the only real competition to soccer in the city, and this could be another reason why the Thorns have been so successful.
The community has grown due to the partnership between the MLS Portland Timbers and the Portland Thorns. The Thorns get equal promotion at the stadium and there’s a real community around the games.
Portland has embraced soccer and it has been a part of the city culture for more than 40 years now. Some would argue that the women’s team had an easy in-road to popularity, but the same could be said of other cities around the country where there are large soccer communities.
It’s unknown whether another women’s franchise will achieve the same success as the Thorns, but, for now, the city of Portland will celebrate their team and their growth, and on-field success does not seem to be slowing down.