The value of a customer

22 Aug 2019 5:27 PM | Jennifer Ingraham (Administrator)

The following is a post by Mike Coleman.

In Sheba’s excellent blog post, she made a point to discuss the inherent conflicts that can arise from business decisions. I’d like to expand a bit on that and focus on the value of a customer, and why I think MLS and the Timbers are taking some customers for granted while inflating the value of others.

All businesses are built on serving customers, and every business has a variety of customers it’s looking to satisfy. While it may hurt someone’s feelings to hear this, not all customers are created equal. Which customer you value depends entirely on how you want to run your business: Do you want a few customers who shop infrequently but make expensive purchases? Or do you prefer low margins that are offset by a higher frequency of purchases?

At the risk of offending people, at the end of the day each one of us is a customer of MLS. Some of us buy official gear, we watch broadcasts, we visit the web properties, and we attend matches.

In a Yahoo! Sports article today, MLS President Mark Abbot said: “The prohibition on political signage is in place to support the overwhelming majority of MLS fans who come to our stadiums to enjoy a great soccer game ... All of our fans and supporters are important to us and we will continue to engage with them to ensure that we deliver an incredible experience for all.”

I’m going to make a quick aside here that’s not really in the vein of the rest of this post: If you say all fans — and that includes fascists, bigots, and Nazis — you can GTFO right now (and based on what we’ve seen in some stadiums, apparently it does).

MLS is giving equal credence to all fans, but that’s a mistake, because there is a subset of fans — I’ll call them supporters — who are more important to the club than MLS apparently understands.

Let’s go back to a time before I was even really aware of the Timbers. In 2007, Merritt Paulson, through Shortstop LLC, buys the Portland Beavers, and he also gets the Portland Timbers in the deal. Look at that name: Shortstop. Does that name scream, “I am buying a soccer team!”? I can’t pretend to know the true intentions, but that name ...

In any case, Merritt has often said that he was warned about the Timbers Army after buying the club. To his credit, however, he recognized the Timbers Army as an incredible asset. He saw that the atmosphere was just the strategic advantage he needed to draw customers to his new soccer club.

In the end, Merritt goes all in on the Timbers and makes the push to go to MLS. And, who’s his biggest ally in this endeavor? The Timbers Army. People literally quit their jobs to volunteer on MLS2PDX. They showed up at all the council meetings. They lobbied business leaders. They gave everything they had to bring the club they loved to the highest level.

So, the Timbers are headed to MLS, and the Front Office decides they need an awareness campaign to reach people like me; people who didn’t even know the Timbers were still around. Who do they feature on those billboards? The Timbers Army. The same people who volunteered hundreds, if not thousands of hours, helping them reach this point.

“It takes an army to raise a club.” In-fucking-deed.

From my limited history, it really feels like bringing the Cascadia clubs and their supporters into MLS really was an inflection point. MLS featured the Timbers Army, ECS, and Southsiders in all kinds of promotional materials. The sold the league on the backs of the supporters who created an atmosphere unlike anything else in the US and Canada.

I am unsure what MLS would be today without the ability to trade on the work of its supporters. I can tell you this: We’d not have an MLS club today if it weren’t for the work of those Timbers Army members.

But now the league has grown; it has “matured.” Look at the pricing for the new sections added to Providence Park: $3750 for a seat in Tanner Ridge. The cheapest seats in the new section are $1150, making them more expensive than most other “normal” seats.

And who bought those seats? A lot of them went to sponsors and local businesses. These people are the ones who just want “to enjoy a great soccer game.” But, the game isn’t just the 22 men or women on the pitch. No, not even close.

These people also come for the circus. They come for the smoke, the songs, the tifo, the drums, the passion — they come for the same things that still brings goosebumps to my skin and tears to my eyes on a regular basis.

The Timbers have been sold out since 2011, and the Thorns absolutely CRUSH the attendance numbers for women’s soccer teams — and quite a few men’s teams as well. But it’s not because we always field great teams (at least in the case of the Timbers). Why did people still show up when the team wasn’t doing great? Because they wanted the party that the supporters provide.

So, which customer is more valuable? The company that buys four seats in Tanner Ridge to impress their clients? “Hey, Mortimer. Check out the Timbers Army.” “By golly, Randolph, those kids are absolutely bananas!” The folks who sit there to watch the dancing bears as it were?

Or is it the dancing bears themselves? Is it the supporter who doesn’t have $15,000 to write off as a business deduction? They have to save to pay for their tickets — and save they do. And they show up. They show up when the club is winning, and they show up when the club is losing. They show up at their local stadium, and they show up in stadiums across the country. They show up in the downpours, and they show up brutal summer heat.

Rain or shine supporters.

And, let’s be clear: Customers like Mortimer and Randolph are usually pretty easy to deal with. They don’t rock the boat. They don’t ask for much. They want their soccer games fun, devoid of any pesky politics.

They, along with MLS and the Timbers apparently, want us to shut up and sing.

But us? The supporters? We’re not easy to get along with sometimes. We know that this is more than a game, and that the Timbers and Thorns can be more than just clubs. And, we’ll hold the Front Office’s feet to the fire.

I’ll bet any amount of money that if the supporters were to go away and take that beloved atmosphere with them, you’re going to have a much harder time getting Mortimer and Randolph to shell out their money, because you no longer have a differentiated product to sell them: You have a homogeneous corporate sporting event no different from any other league in this country.

Because the clubs and MLS don’t deliver an “incredible experience for all” — the supporters do.

Comments

  • 23 Aug 2019 7:00 AM | From 1975
    You seem to forget those of us who have been here from the beginning. Through NASL, indoor, A League, USL and now MLS. Those of us who came before the circus.
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    • 23 Aug 2019 9:05 AM | Mike Coleman
      Apologies for that. I did focus on MLS, but realize there is a much longer history. That being said this is not about tenure, this is about why people show up in the tens of thousand over the past 9 seasons.
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      • 23 Aug 2019 9:38 AM | From 1975
        In 9 seasons I have missed about 5 matches and have sat in 219 each and every match. I come for the football and the Club, not the players, League or those sitting/standing in the North End. Further, correct me if I a wrong, one is TA if they think they are and it isn't about standing, singing or what section they sit in. ↙️↙️↙️
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        • 23 Aug 2019 11:05 AM | Mike Coleman
          If you want to be Timbers Army, you already are.

          Not sure how that relates to the article.

          In any case, kudos on your outstanding attendance record.
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    • 23 Aug 2019 9:46 AM | Ben Pollak
      From whatbI have read and seen in pictures, it has always only ever been a circus up in here, but I didn't grow up here, only moved here in 2003. That said, I eat, sleep, and drink footy, and there's nothing I have come across that indicates Civic Stadium has ever been a run of the mill footy venue
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  • 23 Aug 2019 7:40 AM | Charlie Raymond
    Well said Mike. I for one will not shut up and sing. Maybe my time would be better spent by picketing the stadium and waving my Iron Front flag instead of feeding the corporate beast that wants to restrict supporters ability to fight hate...
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  • 23 Aug 2019 9:33 AM | HP
    Amazing take on values and the value of a lifetime customer. #RCTID ///
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  • 23 Aug 2019 9:38 AM | Michele Griffin
    Thank you, Mike. As a game day ambassador for the 107ist, I can absolutely back that people do come and see the army more so than the team itself. In the 2 years I have had the privilege of being in this position I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with visitors from not just here in the states but from around the world, that they came to the match to be a part of the Timbers Army.

    In fact, just on Sunday I was asked by a gentleman where the crazy fans sit. He didn't even know what we were called, but he was not from the U.S. and this was his first Timber's match. He came all this way to be a part of us.

    The match before that I had the honor of scarfing a visitor from Australia that was so excited to be at his first Timbers match and was getting to sit with the Army. That same game I also scarfed a Seattle visitor who had been going to Sounders' games and this was his first Timbers match. He left the match saying he would be back again and he would be bringing friends with him next time because he enjoyed being apart of us so much.

    We are known throughout the world and our voices are being heard for what we stand up for and what we stand against. People are watching what we do right now.

    At the same time, the absolute ugliness we are seeing in our ranks towards each other during this Iron Front issue has broke my heart. To the point that I have been doing some serious soul searching about resigning from the membership board. We are supposed to be a group that stands with each other and supports each other regardless of what makes us different. THAT IS OUR CORE!

    And I am not talking about people who are racist, homophobic, fascist, etc. We don't put up with that BS. I am talking about the people that post on social media that they just want to go to the game to watch soccer. If that's what they want to do, let them and STFU about their choice. We don't know what they are personally fighting in their own lives. Soccer may truly be their escape from the homophobia, racism or sexism they deal with everyday and we may be their safe place. But when we attack them on social media and say they are a fascist then because they just want to watch soccer or they don't agree exactly with our tactics, approach or methods, then we no longer are their safe space where they once felt they belonged.

    The world is seeing this part also and it makes it pretty hard to talk to someone about membership when they are hearing about the bullying in our ranks when someone tries to speak out or doesn't align exactly with the thinking of part of the Army.

    We are coming together to fight for something right now and we are strong together as a group. But we have to stand together and listen to each other, even if you don't completely agree with them. You may just learn something as I have this last week. This will make us even stronger.
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    • 23 Aug 2019 11:11 PM | troy stewart
      I know theres enough politic talk- but I've asked and asked, no one with the Army will answer.
      Question: If Club America comes here- HAD we won the MLS cup they would have- can we yell OLE! in between each stanza as the Army does when mocking the Canadian National Anthem? And at the end can we throw sombrero's in the air? Maybe a real good ARRRRRRRRIBA! Strangely not a single 107 can explain to me whats the difference? 1 is inclusive and the other is racist? which/which?
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    • 25 Aug 2019 11:04 AM | No mas
      “People come to see the army more than the game itself”
      The definition of supporters some who actively interested in and wishes success for the success of a particular team.
      Therefore, you are stating that people come to watch people watch people. I question you entire premise and sense of entitlement. Without a club there are no supporters. First and foremost we play to win the match and pay to see it unfold live. The atmosphere and TA community are all components of the experience but people come for the football.
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      • 25 Aug 2019 3:26 PM | Once More, A Fan
        Completely agree with your take, No mas.

        I find it quite arrogant people say they come to the game to watch the TA and not the Timbers. Quite frankly you are drunk with your own success.

        While i completely applaud the actions that the TA have taken ie, volunteering, tifos, community service, I have to state the obvious. The TA is not bigger than the club. In this case, I do not see a clear cut winner in this argument. Seems like we are damned if you damned if you don't. The fallout of this will always take much needed attention away from the game we love.

        Let me be clear about this: I am no fascist. Good people that come to these games are no fascists. Who in their right minds wants fascism, described by Mussolini and Hitler in the 1940s? No American wants that, and you very well know this. The argument you have framed is very complex and nuanced and therefore deserves more consideration than protesting for a symbol on a flag.
        If you say otherwise...well, i don't know what to say, except:

        Becareful you do not get drunk with power. The TA may be checking the MLS, but who checks the TA?

        Is there no middle ground here? Are there no other creative ways you can think of to display symbols of anti fascism, anti hate, anti... in your arsenal of amazing? The Tifo you guys come up are breathtaking. The symbolism, the irony, the satire, the humor, all at your disposal, and 33 minutes of silence was the answer?

        I am much dissapoint. Much underwhelm, i and others are.


        We played Seattle and lost and everyone seems to be happy with that because the TA got the results they wanted; a choreographed silent temper tantrum.

        Fascists everywhere got the message loud and clear and have declared you the winners!!!

        Damn it Timbers Army, not everyone believes the way you do. But just as its not fair that MLS won't let you fly the iron front, its not fair that you have hijacked the attention that was meant for the game of FUTBOL.


        Y'all sounds like a bunch of sith lords. Only siths deal in the absolute.
        Sith lords that are angry they don't get to be on TV for free.

        Give me back my Timbers.

        Respectfully, and with all do respect:

        A fan.
        Of The Portland Timbers Futbol Club.
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      • 28 Aug 2019 10:10 AM | Anonymous
        Question away, I am just relaying what I am told by people that come visit us. As for a sense of entitlement, I do not think it means what you think it means. A sense if entitlement by definition is an unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others."

        Relaying what others have said is not a sense of entitlement. Would you like to armchair critique anything I have said here?
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  • 23 Aug 2019 3:55 PM | One Of You Too
    I thought alot about this response. I have re- written it several times. So here goes:

    I want to be respectful here. I have been in the army since 2012 and yes it is a fantastic experience, no doubt. But there are 20 thousand other non TA members too. People that come to watch the soccer.

    Speaking as one of those people, I can see the TAs argument and I can also understand the MLS's argument here.

    In today's hyperconnected world, we are saturated by information. So much so that we can't seem to escape/unplug , EXCEPT, when you come to the stadium to watch THE Timbers play. This is what I want to do as a soccer/timbers fan.

    I want to come to the stadium to watch the game, and yes, cheer for the team, and yes be part of Army, to a certain point.

    Not everyone believes exactly what you believe and that SHOULD be ok. But, when members of the Army throw down ultimatums, and force people to take sides, it feels very very uncomfortable, AT THE STADIUM, during the game i paid money for and committed time and emotion to.

    If you aren't against fascism, you are for it, simple as that you say. That forces you into a box.
    It forces you into a fight you may not want to fight AT THE STADIUM, during the game I love and i am positive you all love as well.

    Nobody can question your heart and your desire to do good in this community. But maybe, just maybe, there are no winners in this fight.

    Today there will be no tifo, no chanting for 33 min. For what? For a flag that mls doesn't want on TV?

    You have a platform and you use it, yes, but its not yours alone. You are a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure, like a T Rex.

    But lets not forget that while you voraciously roar at your oppononents from the front, your tail leaves unintended collateral damage behind you.

    Ofcourse no one has eyes in the back of their head, but understand that atleast for some, your decisions are affecting them in ways you probably didn't think of or conceive.

    Let me ask you this, if the MLS reverses the ban on the IRon Front and removes politics from the code of conduct, what do you think will happen?

    Will you win? Will you be satisfied with that outcome, or will you continue to push for more?
    Remember that once the restraints are removed, it is removed for all. Maga hats, 1776 flags, all of it will be allowed, right?

    What will become of our stadium then? Will you continue to bully people out of the army that don't see eye to eye with your stances?

    You are holding the Timber's soccer atmosphere hostage. The TImberss Army aren't the only supportes that make this an amazing atomsphere. Everyday people, that love the game do as well.

    How many times has the words the FO vs The TA been uttered? If there is no FO there is no TImbers.

    If there is no Timbers army, will the Timbers still be? YOu really want that answer?

    Respectfully, I ask, cheer for your team. Respectfully I ask, find another more creative ways to don anti-whatever symbiology at games as long as it doesn't interefere with everyone's entertainment or the rules set by MLS.

    Entertainment, sport, this is why we go. This is why we love the game. Most of us grew up playing sports, and coming to the stadium gives us a glimmer of hope of what could have been if we had just worked harder and stuck with it longer.

    We want to bring our kids to the stadium and show them how Blanco can shoot from anywhere, we want to show them the mastery of Valeri, the defense of Chara, the reflexes of Clark.

    And yes, when they ask about the rainbow flags, we tell them its for equality.

    But what should we tell them when they ask why nobody is cheering for the portland timbers for 33 minutes?

    Thank you for your time

    Sincerely
    A Fan.
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    • 23 Aug 2019 4:54 PM | BeeCamp
      You should tell them that they’re standing against all the disgusting elements that are actively used to exclude people who historically have made this country better? I mean, I dunno, it doesn’t seem that hard.
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      • 23 Aug 2019 10:23 PM | A Fan
        Can you describe said disgusting elements? which ones specifically?
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        • 26 Aug 2019 7:23 PM | Common Friggen Sense
          “I know it when I see it”

          - Justice Stewart

          And so do you; don’t play stupid.
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          • 28 Aug 2019 8:49 AM | Just watching
            So I from what I gathered those that truly see ANTIFA for what it is.... a violent bunch of fascists. Got stared down for cheering at the event. Time to look up fascism. Because trying to impose your beliefs through intimidation is it. Sad , so not tolerant.
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    • 23 Aug 2019 5:37 PM | Mike A.
      Well said A Fan.

      Flying what could be considered the Antifa flag, by The Army, will be interpreted as support for Antifa, by many people within the stadium and for sure by the proud boys and any other right wing nut job group watching the Timbers play. This interpretation, (or misinterpretation of support for Antifa), will not be good for the game or the City.

      If your message is to stand against fascism 'spell it out', in nice bold font and fly that instead. That will kill the argument that The Army is supporting Antifa and avoid an assumed political agenda.

      I for one do not want to support ANY political group, while I am at the game, or will be told when to sit, stand, or be quiet. However, I'd be happy to hold a banner that reads 'Always Against Fascism'.

      See you at the game.

      RCTID - Mike A.
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      • 23 Aug 2019 7:25 PM | Wade
        I like that MLS has a strict rule on banning all political signs. Even if you agree with a particular group or symbol, if you allow one you have to allow them all. Its unfortunate that groups take symbols and steal them from their original meaning. It's like the nonsense about the betsy Ross flag. It's not racist but racists have decided to use it so it now has a negative association. I am not in the army but attend a few games a year and watch almost every match on tv.
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  • 23 Aug 2019 11:53 PM | Sean
    Mike, I appreciate the points you raise and agree with most. However, generalizing Tanner Ridge as a bunch of capitalistic disinterested corporations is unfair and untrue.

    Full disclosure: I’m a Tanner Ridge season ticket holder. The cost represents about 10% of my annual salary. I’m neither a corporation nor a small business owner.

    What I am is a fan. And I am and have been a 107ist supporter for several years.

    I paid the price I did to become a season ticket holder so that I could support the team we both adore. As someone who had been on the wait list for five years, when my number came up Tanner is all that was left. I could have passed it up and bought tickets at face value on this site or stepped up / saved up, and showed my support. I chose the latter.

    As did many of those around me who, like me, proudly wear my TA scarf and patches.

    To generalize, marginalize, and then degrade the fans in other sections creates division. Not unity. . .

    And I thought unity is what this group was about.

    We are on the same team. We are in the same fight. #RCTID
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  • 24 Aug 2019 5:35 AM | Fire Fan
    Look to Chicago to see what occurs when a front office wears down a fan group for a decade. Believe it or not, Section 8 was THE fan group of MLS 1.0. However, once the Hauptmann regime bought the team "shut up and sing" became official policy. Culminating in mass banning last year. Despite, the less than desirable location Toyota Park used to draw well, but FOs war on supporters without realizing the majority of their sideline season ticket holders grew up in Section 8 drove attendance down. Remember, owners come and go...YOU are the heart of the club.
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  • 25 Aug 2019 10:43 AM | friknfrak
    We drive to the games from Bend.7 hour drive to attend a game. We also saved our monies and bought seats in the duracell section.The last few games have been disappointing because of the change in the Timbers Army.You are a very valuable part of the experience.Why does there need to be anything political?? Why not just enjoy the game and experience? Call me naive but........
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