The Guardian asks “Are the Portland Thorns the ideal template for a women’s football club?” and it’s such a fucking no-brainer that every year I go to Thorns games I wonder why the entire women’s soccer league in America doesn’t use them as a blueprint to copy.
Thorns games are well-attended, always setting records in the league (last Sunday’s game I went to had a new league record 19,000 people). They’ve got a good team, but lots of other teams are good too, but have a fraction of attendance and support from fans (some teams get as few as 2,500 fans to show up).
Currently, the North Carolina Courage are the best team in the league. Let’s look at where they play.
Portland’s park at the top looks like a cross between a classic mid-tier city baseball stadium and a european soccer stadium. The Courage look like they play at a well-funded high school.
I’ve thought about this and Portland’s success boils down to a few key, simple concepts that can easily be replicated elsewhere.
1. Have both a MLS men’s soccer team and a NWSL women’s team in the same city to pool the two fanbases. The Portland Timbers are a big draw and so are the Thorns and there is plenty of crossover fans between the two. Soccer fans can enjoy both teams and games, but don’t cut your fans in half by putting a women’s team in a weird city with no corresponding base of soccer fans, and the same goes for the men, don’t expand to a non-soccer town with just one team, and make sure there are good college soccer teams in those cities too. Honestly, the NWSL and MLS should work together on this and only approve expansion cities that pair up teams to the same place, so one can help support the other and vice versa.
2. Share the men’s MLS team stadium with the NWSL women’s team. When you build a soccer stadium, both teams should share it. The Portland park is incredible, and the Timbers and Thorns switch off who gets the Saturday game and who gets to play on Sundays. That’s how every other city should do it.
Here’s where the Seattle Reign FC women’s team plays:
And here’s where the Seattle Sounders men’s team plays:
That’s messed up. This should be the rule: Two teams, one city, one stadium.
3. Add more women’s teams in obvious places. San Jose has a MLS team and a stadium but no women’s team. How can this be? This is totally bananas, given the huge population of fans in California and that Santa Clara University is nearby and was the subject of a whole film about women’s soccer. There’s definitely a big fanbase ready to embrace a new team there and it boggles my mind there’s nothing in San Jose and nothing in Los Angeles, which gets TWO mens teams. Anywhere there’s a strong women’s college team and an existing MLS team should be a good candidate for locating a pro women’s team.
Honestly, that’s all there is to the Portland Thorns’ success. Granted, Portland doesn’t have any pro football or baseball teams, but it has two top-tier women’s soccer programs at Portland State and U of Portland and they share a stadium with the existing MLS team.
Every other city and team in the MLS and NWSL could work like this and really draw the crowds to women’s soccer, which it goes without saying clearly outperforms the men’s US team in international play and deserves bigger salary caps once they start attracting bigger crowds by pooling fans and resources.