Portland Thorns FC already nearing season ticket record

Jeff Kassouf December 22, 2012 16

Portland is already proving itself to be a valuable piece to the National Women’s Soccer League. Portland Thorns FC owner Merritt Paulson, who is also owner and president of MLS’ Portland Timbers, tweeted on Friday that the team already has over 2,000 season ticket deposits.

That number is already larger than any number of season tickets sold by any team in WPS. The best figure put out by any WPS team is believed to be 1,583 season ticket units sold by the Chicago Red Stars in 2009. Here is a full breakdown of 2009 ticket sales and revenues from former Breakers GM Andy Crossley. The 2010 Atlanta Beat, playing as an expansion team in the brand new Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium, sold very similar numbers (and the later you get into WPS history, the uglier numbers get and thus the harder they become to dig up).

We’re working on tracking down some WUSA numbers, which were larger than WPS sales, but not astronomically. Here’s a Sports Business Journal article from 2002 about the San Diego Spirit having 2,000-plus season ticket holders despite not making the playoffs.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter “FreedomSTH” for digging this article up, which cites the 2001 Freedom as having over 3,000 ticket holders. Anything in the 2,000s would still be far and above any WPS numbers.

Keep in mind the deposit for Thorns FC tickets is $25 and is refundable. Additionally, current Portland Timbers holders do not have to pay a fee to sign up for Thorns FC season tickets.

Still, it’s safe to say that based on that figure, Portland is already close selling the most season tickets in U.S. professional women’s soccer history, one week after the team got a name and two days after it named Cindy Parlow Cone as its first coach.

  • Steglitz49

    Well done, Portland! Excellent knews. Now the others have been set a bar; would that they jump over it.

    Let’s put this into some context. In the German ladies league, last season 5 teams averaged >1000 spectators, of which Potsdam had 2533 and Frankfurt 2446. Those figures were a substantial improvement of the previous season when Potsdam av 1830 and FF 1905 per match. Worse, so far this season the figures are down by 15-20%.

    It helps to have a wealthy sugar-daddy. Bayern Munich, who beat FF for the cup this year with Sarah Hagen scoring the first goal, averaged 534 spectators last year while this year they are at 279 per match. BM have 3 Americans in their squad. Arsenal’s ladies have equally poor turnouts, even for critical CL matches.

    OK. In their glory days, Umeå averaged >3000 per game and almost 9000 turned out for a key match but this last season in Sweden the ladies’ teams together averaged 836 per match almost 100 down from 924 the previous season.

    It is a mystery why men will pay to watch 3rd and 4th rate men’s teams but will not pay less to watch top ladies’ sides. There must be quite a few PhDs in psychology (or psychopathy) waiting to be done here.

    • Wow, Steglitz, thanks for the information. Every tiny drop of information coming out of this barely formed league seems to be great right now (okay, with the exception that some of the team logos look cheap). Still, to have the support of US Soccer, guaranteeing that the best women players in the world will be divided into each team, plus the best of Canada and Mexico is phenomenal. I can easily see this league potentially becoming THE league for the best women’s play on the globe and drawing the best athletes from Europe, Asia, and South America.

      As for your question about why some men totally ignore women’s play….?

      • Steglitz49

        Thank you, Justin, for your kind words. Would that NWSL approach the State Department and ask them to sponsor 8 players from the 3:rd world as a new departure in international relations.

        Verily, this new league should be able to have the same role as the NHL did for hockey around the world.

        The earlier US ladies’ leagues had the top foreign players in them, but during the absence of a US league both Europe and Japan have established themselves and if big men’s teams in Europe up the ante for their sisters, UEFA will dominate ladies’ football. Brazil seems to be going backwards into the dark ages. Colombia seems a better bet for South-America.

  • luke

    2000 per match average in the first season would be huge success, even 1500 would be very good point start IMO. GL for all the teams!

    • randomhookup

      I’m guessing that’s about the planning number for the league. The Breakers averaged about 2300 last year in WPSLE. The Seattle Sounders Women averaged about 6k when they had NT players on hand (different team, but still a good indicator). UPortland women average about 3500 fans a game (& it seems mostly to be nonalumni/students). WPS averaged about 3500 per game in 2011 with a couple of really big post-WWC games in there.

      • Steglitz49

        I hate to rain on your parade. Assume you charge $200 per season ticket, then you can make some simple back of the envelope calculations. With 2300 tickets, you pull in $460k and with 3500 you get $700k and with 6000 $1.2m. Unless you own your ground, you have to pay rent.

        Maybe in this start-up phase you can make ends meet but to have a functioning league, with first and reserve teams and youth programs, you have to get sponsors to open their wallets big and to achieve that you need bums on seats. Doing a so-called “Malin Baryard” will not cut the mustard 15 years on.

        In short, the NWSL must define what the product they are selling is, then segment the market and pull in the fringe punters. Unless they can achieve that, the NWSL may well deliver decent enough women’s NTs for Canada, Mexico and USA in 2015 (which obviously would be something) but the league will wither away and die for the third time of asking.

        • randomhookup

          Not sure I have a parade to be rained upon.

          The teams are looking at budgets in the $500-700k excluding allocated player salaries. Getting that kind of ticket revenue sounds about right. You may money off of concessions and merchandise and you get lots of sponsors (especially in kind). You might lose $100-200k per season, depending upon your ability to pull in additional revenue, and that’s okay for the owners.

          Attendance is the main revenue driver and I’m putting together a new league, 1500-2000 will be the number I use to plan. If I can get more, great, but I have to be a realistic businessman.

          You aren’t going to have a full reserve team and we don’t expect teams like this to do much of anything in youth development. The US already has a pretty fair flung set up, and though it’s mostly pay-for-play, it’s doing what needs to be done. 8 teams can’t make a dent in a huge country like this.

          • Steglitz49

            Your point is well taken, that USA (and Canada) has a fine high school and college sports program, that does not exist in Europe. On the other hand, it means that you will be 22 before you can play as a professional full-time. This may not be so bad as it sounds, because most people would agree that ladies should be at least 18 before they move up to senior level and some ask for 20.

            Your point about size and population is also excellent. Eventually this has to develop into a regionalized structure with 4 or 8 leagues. On to this could be bolted on a NWSLFA Cup competition if you get my drift.

            But, as you say, let’s get the gang of 8 into orbit before we start thinking of the tribe of 64 or 96.

          • luke

            I came up with 1,5k-2k numbes observing some of men european leagues, where on veeeery old, small capacity stadiums sth like 2,5-3,5k hardcore fans show up, f.e. Gornik Zabrze which is quite known polish club. So I think 1,5-2k for a completely new women club, without hardcore fans and tradition yet looks very promising at the beginning…

          • luke

            …not to mention that 300 devoted supporters with drums and strong voices is quite enough to make great noise and atmosphere on 5k stadium. 😉

  • FreedomSTH
    • Steglitz49

      Why then did they go the way of the Dodo?

      • 3000 is still not enough when you’re renting RFK Stadium for $100k per match.

        • Steglitz49

          Good point. Most European clubs play in small stadia, which sometimes are the training ground of their men’s teams. A few play in stadia that hold about 12-15,000 but then usually only use the main stand (ca 3-5,000 capacity).

          A year ago Arsenal Ladies played Chelsea Ladies in Arsenal’s main stadium (Emirates; 60,000 seater). Only 5,000 showed up. London has a population of about 12 million, which makes 6 million women. If half of those had been fit enough to go, you could have filled the stadium 50 times. In other words, <0,2% attended.

          If American teams can sell 2000 season tickets, they are bang ahead of their European sisters. Now they must segment the market and expand the base. Judging by Europe, that base is not women, the more is the pity.

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  • Lohkokup

    That 2000 is for folks who don’t currently have Timbers season tickets. If they do – like my family, we reserved season tickets for the thorns, but we didn’t have to pay a deposit, I don’t know how many of the 14000+ season ticket holders will get Thorn tickets, but I’d bet that adds in another 1000. The other folks are getting tickets, because they can’t get tickets to the Timbers. We’ve had record numbers at the reserve games…we get more than 2-3 thousand at reserve games, we can do better at the women’s first string games.