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Racking up losses

01/20/2022 7:14 AM | Kristen Gehrke (Administrator)

The following is an email sent from Timbers season ticket holder Aaron Brown to the PTFC ticketing team, posted here with Aaron's permission. It may not reflect the views of the 107IST Board or the organization at large. 

Last November, after celebrating a delightful end-of-season victory in the North End with my friends, I walked out of Civic Stadium to find that someone had cut through a lock and stolen my messenger bag off my bike parked on the temporary racks on SW Morrison.

I was really distraught - while the the bag and contents were of minimal value to anyone by myself, I had a decade ago spent what was then to me a good amount of money on the bag and considered it one of my most prized possessions. At the time, after returning from college to move back to my hometown, I went out of my way to ask the local company making the messenger bag to use specific green and gold fabric, and gave them patches from the No Pity Van and of the club crest itself to sew onto the front. This rugged, delightful bag was literally designed to my exact tastes - the local company specialized in waterproof bags perfect for getting around town, and I took a certain amount of delight in knowing there wasn’t a single one like it anywhere on the planet.

The same year I bought the bag, with what little money I had returning from college, I ponied up to buy a season ticket for the inaugural MLS season. It was at the time among the largest non-essential purchases I had ever made on my own dime - and I was rapt with enthusiasm that winter eagerly anticipating spending the next years of my life both biking around in my hometown and watching my plucky little club play in the top league in America.

Until this fall, I do not believe I have missed a single regular season Timbers home match that I have been in town for since I went to my first match in the General Admission section in 2005. That’s just shy of half of my life at this point, and likely represents something close to 250 matches. I can't even begin to express the extent to which I've routed my life around supporting these teams, traveling thousands of miles (and lord, spending untold thousands of dollars) to sing for the boys in green and the girls in red. New York, Vancouver, Columbus, Atlanta, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Chicago, at least a dozen trips to Seattle... and why? Because in supporting these soccer clubs, I found community. I found people who enjoyed the beautiful game, the ecstatic thrill of spending ninety minutes together, watching the fortunes of our favorite club rise and fall. It's been so captivating to belong to something larger than myself, in an institution with deep, historic roots in my beloved hometown. That couple of days in 2015 when my dad surprised me with last minute tickets to fly to Ohio and watch the club put a star on the crest remains probably the greatest weekend of my life. I've recruited dozens of friends, colleagues, and family members to join me in the North End over the years, and probably gifted at least two dozen scarves over my life, usually successfully welcoming a new person into becoming a fan and supporter of these two cherished soccer clubs (and for the Front Office, new paying customers).

If soccer is the most universal language on the planet (what Swedish writer Fredrik Ekelund called the “Esperanto of the feet”), being a supporter of the Timbers and Thorns and the community around it has always felt like Portland’s local dialect, and it’s an accent I assumed I would be glad to keep for the rest of my life. That the fans understood love of the sport and the club as an extension of love for the community itself is an ethos I’ve only grown to further admire in my own professional career in nonprofit advocacy spaces that prioritize using place to unite across differences and cultivate belonging.

It should be noted that while I was standing this fall in front of my bike, morose about the loss of my messenger bag, a nearby fan unlocking her own bike insisted I borrowed her extra rear light to get home safely since mine had been lost in the theft. It was a reminder that in times of trouble, the supporters of the club always seems to look out for each other, even strangers, because the beauty of supporting your soccer club is that there are no strangers when you’re all wearing the same colors.

So when I tell you that reading that ESPN article this weekend led me to consider that I might already regret renewing my season ticket for the 2022 season, I hope you understand how patently absurd I would find this sentence as recently as a few years ago. To find myself so disgusted with the reckless, arrogant leadership that I’d consider no longer planning my life around the fixtures is a helluva indictment on how deeply betrayed I feel from the past few years. It’s not too much to ask that the club recognize the values and priorities of the community who rearrange their lives to find opportunities to support them.

To be candid, I’ve had iterations of this email in my inbox for years, starting with the Iron Front debacle in 2019 (which, by the way, given how the summer of 2020 played out in Portland with the whole “federal goon squad occupying downtown thing,” it sure seems prescient that in 2019 the Timbers Army was trying to warn about creeping fascism!). I was horrified by the possibility of letting Diego Valeri go in 2019, remain uneasy about the clubs deep ties to revanchist municipal business leadership, and remain astonished the club that consistently boasts about its sustainability bonafides continues to take a massive corporate sponsorship from 76, an oil company. That the owner of the club was boneheaded enough to take to twitter to complain about losing money hand over fist during a pandemic that created economic havoc for so many in the community and has so far seen 800,000+ deaths and counting only reaffirms how different a bubble the FO live in from the everyday Timbers fans, let alone the Portland community at large. 


So, I was already a bit frustrated with the front office when the news broke this fall that the club had essentially covered up sexual assault for years, allowed the perpetrator to get off without ramification, and then acted puzzled that the community was so outraged at the news. The obliviousness to the hypocrisy - support women’s sports by giving us your money, but please don’t hold us accountable to supporting women’s sports by making sure women have a safe workplace! - and the desperate PR attempts to try and quell the outrage through performative social media gestures. I just don’t understand how the club that sees itself as perhaps the largest and most important women’s soccer club in North America if not the world doesn’t recognize the responsibility it holds to set precedence that such trespasses are unacceptable, and that the club needs full transparency and accountability. I think about how many supporters in the Riveters section carry with them everyday all sorts of awful trauma related to sexual assault, and it makes me miserable to imagine that their beloved Portland Thorns was incapable of rising to the challenge of setting the tone and proactively showing it will do everything possible to exorciate assault from women’s soccer.

Other than a single cup of coffee the day of the cup final, I’ve maintained a concession and apparel boycott since the news broke, and honestly can’t imagine myself spending another dime inside the stadium anytime soon. I also take umbrage with the grotesquely out-of-touch statement that the club issued in response to the ESPN article, which noted the whole “90% season ticket holder renewal statistic” - we all know that was overwhelmingly driven by a desire to be present to hopefully watch Diego Valeri be sent off with a trophy. I myself only renewed my season ticket (and even so begrudgingly) because the original announcement suggested I’d be able to buy four tickets to the cup final, which of course was immediately cut down to two. I feel kinda tricked into renewing, to be honest, and I’m wondering if it’s not time for me to officially break up with this club and find other social institutions that actually seem to share my values, or at least care to listen to what my values are. The club’s decision to dismiss the monthly check in with the 107ist, a democratically elected representation of fans (certainly more democratically chosen than anyone in the Timbers higher leadership), only reinforces a gut decision that the club remains oblivious to who lines their pockets, who vouches for their values, who carries the team through good years and not-so-good years, rain or shine.

I hope the front office is taking seriously the possibility that that organic, word-of-mouth zeitgeist that keeps bringing fans into the stadium might disappear, forever doused by a greedy and clueless attitude towards the folks lining the pockets of the FO. What happens when you don’t get the free advertising of supporters proudly wearing your scarves across town, asking to put the match on at the local bar, feeling proud to be part of something bigger than oneself because it reflects one’s larger ethos and values? Will the corporate sponsors be as excited to renew when the general admission section doesn’t keep the stadium’s energy flowing through the season? Do fans across the stadium really show up to watch this team hunker through a rebuild without any coordinated trumpets, tifo or singing?  Forget the moral and sentimental angle - I'm astonished the Front Office thinks that breaking off meetings with the 107IST is somehow an economically wise decision. Since I did renew my season ticket and you do already have my money, I suppose I look forward to continuing my concessions boycott and gleefully participating in whatever direct action the 107IST has in mind for the upcoming season to go on strike and make explicit their contributions to the community. I want to see Gavin Wilkinson fired, I want to see more accountability and transparency around the investigations of assault underway, I want to see a front office that sees their biggest supporters as accomplices in celebrating our club and community instead of adversaries.

So yeah, in some ways, having that messenger bag stolen from my bike during a Timbers match was a pretty fitting representation of the season.  I’ve written multiple emails and filled out plenty of surveys over the years pleading with you to set up an outside-the-stadium bag check as i’ve seen at most other MLS stadia I’ve visited, which would be massively helpful for anyone trying to bike or transit to the match (especially after enforcement of the clear bag rule). I also noticed that it appears the cheery woman on Timbers/Thorns match day operations staff who since 2011 has watched the bikes during the match to deter theft no longer holds that job. It’s honestly a wonder that more folks haven’t had bike lights stolen. (There were multiple cops nearby, but they literally laughed at me when I expressed frustration that their presence didn’t deter petty theft). Can’t help but wonder if her absence is a sign of the club once again cutting costs.

Something that meant an awful lot to me, that represented the things I cared about most in this world, that I was overjoyed to talk about at endless length, that I had repeatedly asked for support to keep and cherish, feels like it’s been taken from me due to indifference and neglect from the very entities of which I consider myself the biggest of supporters. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected otherwise, given how the front office ignored Mana Shim in 2015 and now both unceremoniously showed Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri the door in 2022 despite these individuals’ overwhelmingly significant contributions to the club and the community.

Given all of that, I suppose it's foolish to assume this email will have any impact on the club's front office. Just another supporter audacious enough to believe they are entitled to have the club they care about maybe care about them in return.

Last month, despite the cost, along with my season ticket I bought myself a replacement new messenger bag. Although it’s a slightly different shade and updated looks, when asked to choose a color I of course inevitably chose green.

Please restart listening to and collaborating with the 107IST to allow me the opportunity to someday be eager to cover it in Timbers patches while I carry it around town.



Comments

  • 01/20/2022 11:49 AM | Mark Bringhurst
    Thank you for so eloquently expressing what so many of us feel. I let my beloved Timbers Army Season Tickets go after the Iron Front debacle. The Timbers Army leadership are my elected leaders and they speak for me!
    Link  •  Reply
    • 01/20/2022 12:58 PM | Douglas Griffith
      Thank you for pouring out your heart. My family agonized the decision and were tricked into renewing as well. Fool me once...
      The boycott of concessions and merch lives on.
      Link  •  Reply
  • 01/20/2022 5:04 PM | Anonymous
    Thank you for expressing what many of us are feeling at the moment. Solidarity forever.
    Link  •  Reply


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