Merritt Paulson, majority owner of the Portland Timbers, spoke exclusively with Sportspress Northwest to share his thoughts on the building of the Timbers’ brand, the buzz created by its billboard and advertising campaign and the excitement the new MLS team is generating in Portland. Oh, and he wants everyone to know one of his top priorities this year — to beat the Seattle Sounders.
He spoke with staff writer Stanley Holmes on these and a number of issues regarding the Timbers and the MLS. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:
1. How would you describe your experience so far, joining MLS?
Its been a wild ride. Its been exciting. Were all tremendously enthused this team will have an impact on this city and on the MLS. Cant wait to start to play games.
2. What has surprised you, so far?
The tremendous public process (to expand and rebuild PGE Park in downtown Portland, a public-private partnership that was key to the Timbers securing MLS entry). Every move was covered myopically. It was a prolonged negotiation over a year. It was a difficult process. It’s structured in a way that has zero impact to taxpayers. It was a great deal for the city and enabled us to get a great facility.
Related: How the Timbers built their buzz and brand
3. From the beginning, how did you want to position the Timbers brand compared to the Sounders? How did you want to connect with the Portland community?
A big thing for us was a step up in division. Suddenly, we were relevant to a group that we weren’t relevant to before. Some people were just not going to go to anything that was minor league. Really highlighting that distinction was something we had to do.
Its very different here: we had a much bigger fan base in the lower division. I think the atmosphere is unique. It is very distinctive to Portland. I think what Seattle has done is terrific. But its a very different atmosphere here. This is like going to a game in England or Argentina that its a sophisticated, passionate fan base.
Our marketing campaign highlighting the fans I feel as good about that as anything Ive done in marketing. And Ive done a lot of work in marketing. I thought “Scarves Up, Seattle” was a great campaign for Seattle. Were really highlighting the fans of Portland in a cool and edgy way.
4. How did ‘We Are Timbers’ campaign originate?
We started with another agency originally. For a number of reasons, it was time for a change. It was the right time for Jelly Helm’s concept. The idea of a grand, impending event and communicating that. The genesis was entirely his concept. He pitched it once. I loved it from the get-go. Not using models, doing a casting call among our fans. You cant communicate civic pride more than that. Im frankly surprised other teams havent done it. Its all about the execution. Its generated a lot of buzz, which is what we wanted.
We cant be forced in anything we do. There is a tradition and there is a history on the field and in the stands for over 30 years. Even if we are going after a broader audience, we cant get away from that core authenticity.
5. What were you trying to achieve with the jerseys?
I wanted a distinctive jersey that you knew right away was Portland. And I wanted a jersey that gave the right head nod to our past, and it wasnt rocket science that our main jersey would be forest green. Lot of subtle touches to explore.
With Rose red, thats where we got more creative. We literally have another logo. We toyed with the idea of Rose City FC concept. I wont say which one is my favorite. And both jerseys have been popular. My first reaction to Rose City: it was killer.
6. Not everything has been a smooth ride. Explain the logo controversy?
First, I was the guy who pushed for a launch of the logo during the USA vs. England World Cup match. We did an unveiling in Portland’s Pioneer Square, where there was an outdoor viewing party. A bad image of the logo was leaked the night before. It looked cartoonish. There was a mini-uprising that had already built prior to the game.
We didnt do enough communicating with our fan base. As a result, the 107st (Timbers Army) earned its stripes, constructively communicating the issues and we made a stronger logo. Frankly, it got more play in the national soccer community due to the nature of the World Cup event. But it was a big deal with a core group of fans.
7. Timbers Army: how influential are they?
They are our best fans. They care the most. Theyve got a good voice within the organization and figured out a way that effectively communicates with us. We dont always agree. Weve shown we do listen, we do communicate and we do care, and its real.
We do some unique things with them. They earn a commission on every Timbers ticket sold in Timbers section. We open press conferences to season ticket holders. Accessibility to our fans is important. We are open to bloggers. As long as you conduct yourself professionally, you’ll be treated like any other member of the media.
People know they dont have to sit in the supporters’ section. And the supporters’ section provide the atmosphere. There are families in the suburban communities who were not interested in us in the minor league but now they are. It’s really not a tension point.
8. Seattle Sounders: your thoughts on the bar they have set?
Other than being relevant, it’s night and day in terms of Seattle and Portland. They are relevant as any team in Seattle. They have done a great job filling the stands. Done a great job of putting a great product on the field. I dont know if people appreciate how difficult it is to be so successful on the field. They have done a phenomenal job in terms of success theyve had.
But you’re not going to see marching bands and confetti here. Its more do-it-yourself here. The different nature of the two groups: you dont want to say Seattle is manufactured because thats disingenuous. Its just a different vibe here. I think its going to be a little bit louder and more intense here. Its smaller here. We aint ever going to have 30,000 season ticket holders.
But Seattles success was instrumental in our success in that we would not be in MLS today if we couldnt point to Seattle. We needed to convince Portland city officials to sign on to our deal (stadium renovation). It probably helped us with MLS, too. I dont think anybody expected the Sounders to be as successful as they were, particularly in an NFL stadium.
The biggest similarity: we both care about soccer. Its going to be a great I-5 rivalry.
9. What are your hopes for your first MLS season?
We hope we can come in and compete and play entertaining soccer. We are a team that has been promoted. Were not an expansion team. I want to be competitive. I want to make the playoffs and I want to beat Seattle. Those are my goals for the first year.
“This is like going to a game in England or Argentina that its a sophisticated, passionate fan base”
thinly veiled conceit, Mr. Paulson. I’ll let an Englishmen have the final say. Frank Lampard “Today was the best atmosphere I’ve played in [the USA]”
“you dont want to say Seattle is manufactured because thats disingenuous”
yet you insist on using the word to correlate our organization with it
“I think its going to be a little bit louder and more intense here.”
I look forward to noise meters at Portland and Seattle games to determine the truth of this statement.
“Were not an expansion team”
Yes you are. Who’s going to provide service to Nagbe and Cooper? Good luck in the basement of MLS in 2011
“Yes you are. Whos going to provide service to Nagbe and Cooper? Good luck in the basement of MLS in 2011”
This proves how much you know about soccer. Nagbe is an attacking midfield player and thus will be providing plenty for Cooper et al.
How can it be like a game in Europe when you haven’t had a game yet?
Because we have a long history in NASL playing to thousands of passonate fans each week to prove it.
Merritt gets it and has an amazing opportunity to show what North American Soccer can mean on the field and in the stands. We in the Army are relishing this moment when so much potential is brewing, waiting to boil over. Merritt’s responses here are *pitch perfect*, if you will. Just the right amount of courtesy and backhanded compliments. If the Sounders customers can’t take it in stride and respond in kind (like Wankcouver’s South Siders), then they are truly missing out.
(“Noise meter”? Seriously? Do you think sound is measured by a noise meter in, what, loudspeakers per section? (Playing Crowd Sounds, Vol 2, Track 7: John Tesh Concert, I’m sure.)
Don’t let the last few comments upset you. Im a Sounder fan and I like the way he is challenging his I-5 rivals. The timbers will do great this year but the MLS is very competitive and it will not be easy- good luck, LOL you will need it.
Portland has had a more sophisticated and passionate fan base for years. Like a good wine you cannot make something sopisticated in two seasons. Seattle sounders = mass produced two buck chuck!
“More sophisticated”? I’d listen to you if you were someone who has watched this history grow. In the 80’s you were clearly not there when there was 20,000 of us and maybe 15,000 of you. I know the people who were on the busses to Portland and there was never the same number coming to Seattle. Bigger fact is that Vancouver fans far outnumbered Rose City fans. The Timbers Army didn’t even exist in 1996 when we first campaigned for MLS. We won it, then lost it due to A-League status. You want sophistication? Now the league has developmental squads for most clugs and a Reserve League. The very reason the Sounders were denied inaugural league status. Sophistication? Look it up Sean. That $2 buck chuck you’re referring to is a rosie blur common to your city.
haha…”you dont want to say Seattle is manufactured because thats disingenuous”…isn’t that what your whole campaign was about? Looking forward to two extra wins this year thanks to Portland coming in and faking it all year long in the BEST atmosphere in MLS!
The funniest thing Push-on might have said,was when he called the Portscum fans, wait for it….Sophisticated!!! He must not get out of Oregon much!! Lower division, 1st division, expansion, or 35 years of history, either way you spin it, results are the same NO trophies ever!! Twist that to your 11,000 fans, while up here all 36,000+ supporters celebrate TROPHIES at every level we’ve been in! (including our expansion year)
Bring it on Seattle and Portland, so psyched that Portland and Vancouver will be in the league this year. As a Philly supporter (Sons of Ben), in my opinion, we take our cues from you guys. We look forward to hosting you at PPL park!
The Rose City (red) jerseys I’m not a fan of. I rather they/Away Kits were the moss green color or something “green”ish not red. That is a huge jump from what our colors and identity is, and should be – GREEN. I think that is a mistake. Otherwise I like the new logo, stadium upgrades and ad campaign. Just not that tacky red away kit, with way too many logos going on and busy-ness.
Hi Chris D,
Give it some time, the red may grow on you. I’ve been a Sounder fan for many years and own: light blue, heather green, white, purple, black, red, blue, lime green & electric yellow Sounders jerseys from past years. The love for your boys on the pitch will erase jersey color preferences! Wait until you see the rediculous kits my Sounders will be wearing this year, ug! There is hope for you that they may change the away kits, Sounders dumped the scarcely used blue away kit after only 2 years to adopt the “shale” kits, maybe PDX will do the same with the red.
I admit, I love your new logo, it relates to your old logo. I still prefer the old Sounders logo, I’m just happy to be cheering for the name Sounders even if they added the cliche F.C. to the name.
Best of luck,
fanforlife (non-ECS Sounders fan)
We’ve has a rose city red kit for a long time now
I love it. The rivalry only gets better when ownership is talking trash. I hope Portland can put a decent product on the field, otherwise the only rivalry will be in the stands. Good luck Timbers.
this will be like two brothers elbowing each other in the head in the back yard, trying to win a 1 v 1. just remember, big bro always wins and always will.
Sounders customers? That’s funny.
You use the term “customers” to put down what you can’t equal, it’s your only way of attempting to marginalize our massive crowds. Biggest and best in the MLS since 2009, that won’t change with the Timbers coming into the league. And it’s time to stop referencing the USL, supporters groups are only as good as their latest display and travelling support
Here is ECS’ latest display
And our most recent travelling support
And yes, a decibel meter on the pitch should settle the “who’s louder” discussion in 2011. If we’re talking last season, it’s obvious who won. 36,000 v. 10,700
Are the Sounders getting their own soccer stadium or will they continue to squat in a NFL stadium?
RBP was designed as both a Football and Soccer Stadium. How many USA national games have you had
We’ve had Two World Cup games, hosted Pele’s final professional game and the Soccerbowl (That the Flounders lost). The Nats are small pickin’s in comparison.
Mens US national games games
If you want to compare USl to USL, its actually 10,000 to 3000 in portlands favor
@Chris D – I thought the Rose City Red jersey was joke and a mistake, until I saw the details. I agree that it brings in a whole different set of ‘branding’ but think of it as the ‘alternate universe’ Timbers. The Roseball logo is really amazing, and the thorns stitching the halves is brilliant. The details are what make the kit rock.
@RaveGreen – Incredible fans and atmosphere vs. trophies. I know which one I’d choose to pay for. (BTW, we’ve got technically two Commissioner’s Cups.)
“But Seattles success was instrumental in our success in that we would not be in MLS today if we couldnt point to Seattle.”
Oh your in the MLS because of us CLAP CLAP
Oh your in the MLS because of us CLAP CLAP
Your in the MLS, Your in the MLS
Your in the MLS because of us CLAP CLAP
Oh you’re in the NBA because…
oh, never mind
Was that supposed to be an insult? I’m glad the NBA is gone. It’s a boring sport where goal-tending is illegal played by oversized crybabies who are given free throws at the basket if they cry enough.
Goals for the Timbers: be competitive, make the playoffs and beat Seattle.
Goals for the Sounders: win the open cup, win the concacaf champs league, win the MLS cup!
Who cares about Portland?
Were those your expectations of the Sounders in their first MLS season, or did you just jump on the bandwagon last year?
Give us a year or two and we’ll make your unachievable goals for the Sounders a routine in PDX.
Portland is the MLS’s red-headed stepchild. Ugly, annoying and never going to amount to anything.
My previous reply to GPSounder was deleted by the moderator. Too bad, I thought it was a good one.
So let’s try again…
The Seattle Sounders are the Kardashian’s of MLS. All hype and soon to be a has-been that never was.
@ John Danfifth – “Customers” is the appropriate term when the attendees expect to be told how to have fun with prompts from the stadium loudspeakers. Biggest crowd, probably. Best? When Rainier’s lahars wipe out your city, there will be No Pity. Do you really want to compare efforts for Tifos? Really? You want to go there?
Plus I really like how say it’s “time to stop referencing the USL” and then compare our USL attendance numbers to your MLS numbers. What was your last USL average…? 2,785. Nice.
(BTW, the acoustics at Piggie Park will blow away everyone now improved with the East Side stands. Simple physics will show that our stadium will be louder. So glad we’ll also be playing in a stadium with real history.)
Go Portland!! We can beat Seattle!!
Merrit knows how to build a bonfire…
At least seattle can win trophys while playing in the same league as portland….d2 portland ever win a usl trophy nope….seattle hell yes!
Ill see you at the Cascadia Summit
Up the Sounders!
Portland doesn’t have the talent to beat other MLS teams. Oh yes, they have a few good folks that can score, but what about defense? Portland’s goal will be very popular this year with our players!! Montero and Nkufo will score on the Timbers so much, Portland will give up by half-time. I find it interesting how jealous Portland is of Seattle. Always carrying a chip on their shoulder. Face it Jr – Seattle is superior, always will be!
Love this rivalry banter…..Go Sounders!
Portland isn’t jealous. Portland and Vancouver were brought in to put you back in your place. Our goal is to antagonize you, and have a hell of a time doing it. We like to goad everyone, but the Pod people who can’t put it in perspective are the Juiciest targets.
Portland talk is tough and acts sophisticated on soccer knowledge, yet the team has never produced. Change your methods, otherwise the MLS will have “NO” pity for the Rose City by placing them back to the USL to loose more matches and continue their “big” talk. Portscum – back to Gresham with the trash. Portland is a sweet town for music, food and culture. The soccer sucks though and will continue to be of poor quality. Timber Army Loggers? Bizzarre concept, see ya at the bottom of the league.
I love the northwest. As much as I trash you Flounders and you Craps, I hope the rest of the country shakes in their shorts when they visit us. Nothing like it.
NO PITY for the Rose City = PortSCUM
It is very interest to note the differences in the fan affiliation. Portland will be loyal, even if it hurts at times. Case and point: the Trailblazers and Sonics, counterpoint, Seahawks, [Huskies?]. However, when dissecting the soccer scene, Portland has supported soccer long before it became hip or necessary that it must be top flight in order to attend. Examples: UofP, 1997 WC Qualifier, Women’s WC 1999 and 2003, Timbers’ USL attendance vs Seattle’s.
Compare “Scarves Up” [teaching how to be a fan, creating solidarity], and “We Are Timbers” [you’re a fan already and already have that affiliation].
Expectations are certainly different, titles or scrap the team vs. lets enjoy this. One seems connected to the sport, the other to prestige of being best.
Compare billboard ads to the minimal advertisment
Seattle fans purchased 20,000 season tickets before any “Scarves Up” campaign. Please stop lying to make your wish-they-were-real points. Seattle fans never needed a marketing campaign to support the team. Apparently, according to your team owner, Portland does. And in classic Portland fashion, the Portland ” soccer fans” are comparing their marketing campaign to Seattle’s and claiming it is superior! Marketing campaigns! You guys are like little chihuahua’s who won’t stop yipping and trying to nip at our heels. It’s both annoying to us and embarrassing to you, but I suppose that as long as you get to annoy us, any shame you endure is worth it?
Also, Seattle Sounders entered the APSL in 1994. Portland Timbers entered in 2001. How do you got off on saying that Portland has somehow supported soccer long before it was “hip” with the overt implication that Seattle has not? The fact of the matter regarding the use of PGE Park for the Women’s World Cup is that it acted as a regional stadium, as a number of Seattle-area fans attended those games, myself included. There was no appropriate stadium in Seattle at the time (Kingdome too big, Memorial Stadium too small and just a bad venue all around). Both Seattle and Portland kept the pro game alive on the west coast, along with San Jose, in the 1980’s. You can keep trying to blow smoke if you like, thinking you are scoring smack points, but all it shows is your ignorance of the history of the sport, disrespect for Seattle’s important role since the 1970’s in growing the sport, and a small-man syndrome.
The last two comments were in response to Kejsare.
Sounders NASL attendance 18,000
Scums NASL attendance 12,000
Our MLS blows yours away forever. Reference these number ever? Just keep hammering on one detail and repeat to your fellow scum to feel better about yourselves. Cannot wait to see my first Scum wearing Moss green. Wearing Moss green is the Ultimate Customer move…pawn.