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Timbers vs Sounders Rivalry

Portland/Seattle example of growing US soccer market

A little over two weeks ago, FC Bayern Munich took on the MLS All-Stars in front of a boisterous crowd at Providence Park in Portland. Pep Guardiola's team experienced a city with a great passion for soccer as thousands came out to see the team's public training sessions and many more the marketing events during the US tour. This Sunday, August 24th, Providence Park will once more be packed with screaming, passionate supporters. This time, they will be there to see what has turned into the most exciting rivalry in American soccer, the Portland Timbers against the Seattle Sounders. A rivalry that epitomizes the growing soccer culture and market not only in the region but throughout the country.

The rivalry between Portland and Seattle spans decades, through different leagues and different sports, and has now become firmly embeded in the two cities' soccer teams. Through time, the rivalry has propelled and cultivated a rich soccer culture in the Cascadia region (the Pacific Northwest of the United States). Even prior to the expansion into Major League Soccer, their games drew thousands of supporters. A pre-season match in 2010, for example, drew one of the largest crowds for a friendly in American soccer history. Their first MLS encounter in 2011 set an attendance record for a regular season match at Seattle's stadium. The following year, their matchup in Seattle featured the second largest stand-alone crowd in MLS history as 66,452 watched the game with more than 1500 Portland fans traveling.

Market potential

Today the matchup is renowned for the large and enthusiastic crowds it attracts and the fervor of their supporter groups. Indeed, several Timbers fans can be found camping outside Providenc Park 50 hours before kickoff hoping to land their preferred standing spots in the stadium. Last year, Seattle and Portland were among the three highest attendances in a league where the average number of fans has been gradually increasing since the formation in 1996. Among American sports leagues today, only the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have higher average attendances than the MLS. In some cities, MLS teams even outdraw their baseball counterparts. That growth is also a big reason why ESPN, Fox and Univision signed long-term deal earlier this year worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire MLS television and media rights.

Earlier this year, FC Bayern Munich opened its first overseas subsidiary, "Bayern Muenchen LLC," in New York with the aim of promoting the club's brand and to reach existing and new fans in a growing market. If the Portland/Seattle rivalry or the growing attendance figures are any indicator of the market's potential and the growing appetite for soccer in the US, then Bayern's expansion into America is heading down the right path.