For the Portland Timbers, 21,144 has been a magic number. It represents the capacity of Providence Park, and it has been the attendance figure at every home Timbers game for the past several years.
But that number is about to change.
The Timbers have completed an $85-million upgrade of historic Providence Park, which includes the addition of 4,000 seats. A new capacity of 25,218 make Providence Park one of the larger soccer-specific stadiums in MLS. Timbers players will be glad to see their home pitch in the June 1 home opener after 20 months of construction: the team has played every match so far this season on the road.
Providence Park is home to the Timbers, the NWSL’s Thorns and USL Championship’s Portland Timbers II, which already played two matches at Providence Park in May to test the facility. It’s currently the second oldest stadium in MLS (only FC Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium is older), though it has been through a number of renovations over the last 93 years. The current stadium opened in 1926 as Multnomah Stadium by the nearby Multnomah Athletic Club and has hosted college football, greyhound racing (!) and various Minor League Baseball teams, including Bing Russell’s legendary Portland Mavericks. Interestingly, it was the site of the 1977 NASL Soccer Bowl between the Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders, which was Pele’s last professional game. It also hosted games for the 1999 and 2003 Women’s World Cups.
The reasons for this renovation are economic. The waiting list for season tickets in Portland reportedly has over 13,000 fans, and approximately 80 percent of these new seats will be allocated to season ticket holders. In addition to the increased quantity of tickets overall, there will also be additional premium seats to further boost revenue.
The added seating was built in three vertical tiers, and each will be sold at a different price point. The uppermost level will be the least expensive and will feature a top-level terrace with views of the city. The middle deck will have mid-level priced seating with a great view of the pitch. The lowest level of the three, named Tanner Ridge after Tanner Creek that runs under the stadium, will feature premium, climate-controlled seating, with complimentary wi-fi, added legroom, and premium food and beverage.
In addition to the added capacity, the renovation project also upgraded other stadium features. New energy-efficient LED lighting system was installed along with new and upgraded videoboards and sound system. A modern roof was added over the new seating sections, and an old roof and accompanying support poles were removed, giving the stadium a roomier feel. Locker-room facilities were also totally remodeled to keep up with current league standards.
Portland is also replacing the former pitch surface with a new Coolplay turf that can reduce on-field temperatures by 25-30 percent. Owner Merritt Paulson told The Athletic that he would have liked to put in natural grass, but the cost was prohibitive. “It’s something we’re continuing to assess. The current costs, and I don’t believe them—I think they’re ridiculous—are $8 million to put in a natural turf. My question is: Can we do it and have it be really good as well?” Though purists would like to see natural grass on every field, sometimes cost makes grass unworkable.
In the end, the renovations of Providence Park are an investment to keep the Portland Timbers and Thorns competitive. It’s tough to be 100 percent successful in selling tickets and still be 10th in league attendance, as the Timbers were in 2018. The franchise value, according to Forbes, was $280 million in 2018, best for sixth in the league. Increasing the number of tickets available and increasing premium seat revenue should further increase that value.
Seeing the completed Providence Park, it seems that that mission has been accomplished. Both the Timbers and Thorns have a new and improved facility, and it should provide the base for many years of success for soccer in Portland.
The Timbers will open the new stadium June 1 against LAFC, and the Thorns will make their new Providence Park debut June 2 when they host the Chicago Red Stars.
Rendering courtesy Brooklyn Digital Foundry.