What can the Portland Timbers soccer team teach us?

I’d never heard of the Portland Timbers soccer team until I read about them in the April edition of Fast Company. My guess is you probably haven’t heard of them either unless you live in Portland or you’re a US soccer fan.

What’s fascinating about this team is although it’s just three season old but has managed to build such a strong fan base that it’s now the third most valuable franchise in Major League Soccer and generates annual revenue of $39 million. Based on the average ratio of revenue to franchise value for several other sports franchises mentioned in the article the value of the Timbers soccer franchise would be $152 million.

I’m commenting on this because as a sports franchise it’s “business” success is driven by fan loyalty and involvement. Typically in the sports space the critical success factor is winning. Winners are grinners and they attract fans, who spend money, attend games, winners get national coverage, attract great players etc. etc.

It’s hard to be a winner right off the bat so to build a fan base you need to think outside the box. And that’s what they have done.

Their strategy was to redefine the live experience in such a way that they have created raving fans. For example when the team scores a goal a lumberjack cuts off a slice from a log of timber with a real chain saw and hands the slice to the crowd which then pass it from person to person and in the process establish a closer “connection” between the club and the fans.

Back in 2001 there was another soccer team called the Timbers in Portland but it petered out. However, it did have a fan base that loved the game and was looking for a team to follow. This was a ready made marketing machine.  Their advertising agency created a marketing campaign consisting of billboards picturing individual fans with a tiny Timbers logo and the words “Spring 2011” , nothing else. They became the talk of the town so by the time the firs game in 2011 18,627 fans packed the stadium.

Portland Timbers vs FC Dallas










Since then they have sold out every game and fans have been known to sleep out in the parking lot overnight to get access to the general admission section. As of now there’s a waiting list of 10,000 for season tickets.

A key to the success of this franchise is the way they have involved the fans which have formed a not-for-profit entity called Timbers Army which shows a banner that reads “IT TAKES AN ARMY TO RAISE A CLUB.” The board of the army meets regularly with the the franchise management team.

This is a great way to keep in touch with your clients and is tangible proof of the need to have a connection with your clients. We have long advocated the importance of conducting Client Advisory Boards to get feedback on how your firm is doing through the lens of your clients.

Maybe it would be a good idea to take that a little further and have a more formalized board advisory comprised of representatives from all your stakeholder groups, namely: clients, team members, the community in which you operate and of course, the owners of your firm. If nothing else (and I’m certain this would be an incredibly valuable initiative) I’ll bet no other firm in your community has one of these and that alone will stand you apart…… just a thought!



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