Thorns Thriving in Portland


The NWSL is receiving a major boost in Portland, where the Portland Thorns have become a big part of the city’s zealous soccer culture.

Since last summer’s World Cup victory by the U.S. Women’s National Team, women’s soccer has been receiving more attention, which could benefit the NWSL over the long run. While many of the league’s teams are working to boost their attendance, Portland is serving as a model for success.

It is no secret that Portland is a city where soccer thrives, and the Thorns have been quickly embraced. The Thorns were the first women’s professional team to be under the same ownership as an MLS team, and owner Merritt Paulson has worked to give the Thorns and the MLS’ Timbers equal billing around Providence Park.

That has rubbed off on the notoriously enthusiastic supporters group Timber’s Army, members of which were involved in organizing the Rose City Riveters, which have become a core part of a fan base. While Portland’s love for soccer is unique in many respects, the Thorns are an example of how other NWSL teams could grow over the coming years. More from

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has made the Thorns so uniquely successful. Portland’s history with soccer certainly plays a factor, as does having a market that’s not oversaturated with professional sports. But the way many Portland fans grasp on to the Timbers and Thorns as part of their lifestyle is also noteworthy, said Hunter Shobe, an associate professor of geography at Portland State University who has studied soccer culture in the Northwest.

There’s a chemistry of things that have happened in Portland that have created this soccer culture,” Shobe said. “This is a phenomenon that could happen in other places, but it would have to happen in its own way. You can’t just study Portland and replicate it.”

If any team has the chance to match Portland’s attendance numbers in the long-term, it might be Orlando.

Like Portland, Orlando is known for its vibrant and dedicated soccer culture, and the city doesn’t have a surplus of pro sports. For now, Orlando is making due playing in an oversized football stadium, but will start competing in a soccer-specific stadium next year, which could make the game-day experience more desirable for Pride fans.

“I think with anything, the success of this team is going to grow over time,” said Teresa Tatlonghari, Vice President of Marketing for Orlando City SC and the Orlando Pride. “This market has been so receptive to the Pride. Especially with the new stadium opening next year, that’s going to be another exciting factor and it’s going to make the game-day experience so much better.”

Last year, the Thorns averaged more than 15,600 fans per game, far outpacing the more than 6,400 per-game average from the number two team, the Houston Dash. Early indications point to that success carrying over into 2016, as more than 16,000 spectators turned out to Providence Park on Wednesday night to see the Thorns defeat the Chicago Red Stars in their home opener.

Image courtesy of the Portland Thorns. 

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August Publications