For many soccer enthusiasts the renovation of Jeld-Wen Field and Portland’s first Major League Soccer team, the Timbers, have been great things. Promise to the city of Portland by owner Meritt Paulson included job creation, economic growth, and a strong fan base that would bring the city together. Although the Timbers popularity in the city is undeniable, is the fiscal effect truly beneficial?
As specified by the Turner Construction Company, which managed the field’s $40 million renovation and expansion, the project incorporated many new attributes. These included the addition of a new playing field, covers over most of the new seating, club seating with a full-service restaurant, new grandstands with concessions, new restrooms, a new training facility as well as renovated and upgraded locker rooms. Public funds covered $31 million that was to be paid back to the city through parking and ticket sales.
Mike Golub, chief operations officer of the Timbers Major League Soccer franchise, shared his opinion about how the Timbers have affected the Portland economy. He says that originally he believed that with “Portland being such a passionate soccer city, we knew that if we did things right it would be enormously successful.”
Jeld-Wen Field initially opened for the Timbers’ first appearance as a Major League Soccer team in 2011. Since then, the team and the new stadium, in Golub’s opinion, have had a positive financial impact throughout Portland. “The stadium and team have created many jobs. Visitors from all over the country and throughout the region have come to watch Timbers games. While here, they are spending money on hotels, restaurants, and shops.”
Including ticket sales, the franchise uses several other financial targets to help measure success.“We continue to be among the leading in ticket sales and sponsorship in the league. We are also considered to be one of the most successful franchises in the league. We have sold out every regular season game that we have played and have a waiting list for tickets of more than 7,000 people,” says Golub.
Golub explains, “We measure success in many ways. In addition to ticket sales, sponsorship, and merchandise sales, we look at web traffic, television ratings, and social media followers. We are among the league leaders in all of these metrics. But perhaps more importantly, we judge our success on how much a part of the fabric of the community we are and how much we are doing to give back to the community.”
According to Golub not only are the Timbers bringing economic growth but also advertising Portland through their success on television. “Several hundred thousand more people are coming to our stadium each year. Also, we are bringing well-known stars from other cities. All of our games are on television, and we have eleven games on national television, which helps shine a light on the team and on Portland.”
Golub also commented on the positive aspects that the team has created throughout the local community. “It’s been an incredibly fun and successful first few years for the Timbers in Major League Soccer. We are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish and proud that the team and the experience are resonating so well with the city and our fans. Sports has a unique way of bringing people together for a shared experience, and I think the Timbers have been a great example of that. We will continue to do everything we can to make being a fan of the Timbers a fun and rewarding [experience] and we will continue to do everything possible to give back to our community.”
Although many believe that the Timbers are having a positive economic impact on Portland, there was criticism when the team started as to whether using public money for the renovation of Jeld-Wen Field was appropriate.
In a city council meeting, Amanda Fritz, the only city commissioner to vote against the final proposal stated, “I am not making my decision today whether soccer is a great sport or not. I am making it whether it’s the best economic use of our city space and our city dollars … I am being asked to vote on the dedication of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.”
Portland Development Commission’s deputy director and Catlin Gabel alum, Keith Witcosky, says, “Portland has rarely been a city which spends on sports as an economic development or job strategy. The city owns PGE Park, so the initial investment in the late 1990s was about leveraging more use and income at the stadium.”
One argument against establishing sports stadiums claims that most people have a limited entertainment budget, and spending money on a soccer game would detract from spending that goes towards other entertainment, like cinemas. Witcosky addresses this complaint by responding, “In some situations, the money spent, at say a Timbers games, would usually have been spent by people in the local economy for other entertainment choices if soccer did not exist. Although the Timbers are an anomaly, I think they generate more discretionary spending. As a season ticket holder, I know myself and my friends spend more in the local economy during Timbers home games than we would on other entertainment choices.”
He also argues that the Timbers not only help nearby pubs, food carts, and restaurants but also businesses across the city because many people flock to them to watch games on television. He has found that at these places sales have increased. Witcosky adds that the nonprofit Timbers Army help fund parks and fields throughout the community.
Although little research has been conducted about the actual economic effect of the Timbers, it appears that they have given Portland financial growth as well as a popular source of entertainment, city pride, and national attention. According to former mayor Sam Adams, “Portland must build its international profile, and the language that the world speaks most, is the language of futbol.”