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The passion of sports fan culture – case of Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers derby

The derby between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers reflects two US cities that just embrace their soccer teams and thus help to build unique fan cultures. So, although the MLS and football (soccer) in the US is new in the professionalized version that we experience today, there are still great lessons to learn about sports culture and the vital fan relations that fuel the business models surrounding the involved clubs and their commercial partners.

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Photos: MLS rivalries being articulated via Twitter (source: Seattle Sounders & MLS).

This great Northwest rivalry is deeply manifested in the football (soccer) cultures and cultural identities associated with each city. The derby between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers is a showcase example of the modern-day US football culture and mirrors the most competitive rivalry in the MLS calendar; it has become a derby that has gained international recognition and exposure. The players get carried away and the symbolic and yet powerful meanings of the derby are elements that present an interactional bridge between the passionate behavior on and off the pitch, which translates into great excitement, drama, and thus entertainment. With this in mind, participants will see a continuous production of motivational factors that turn this derby into a relevant and demanded football product for clubs, fans, sponsors, and the media.

The interesting story here is that despite of participating in a league (i.e. MLS) that only dates back to the early 1990s, these two teams have a history that dates back to 1970s and the North American Soccer League (NASL). So, the derby has an established legacy and historic platform, on which to build and that is a good match in order to buy into the increased football (soccer) interest that is experienced in the US these days. As seen in the videos below, the two clubs profit from the ethos and thus the application of spirit that differentiates the two cities and clubs and in such shape the foundation for a competitive rivalry. Creative and hostile initiatives boost this foundation that provides the derby with renewed fueling.

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Photo: A Portland Timbers’ retweet with the hashtag #RCTID, i.e. Rose City ’till I die’ (source: Portland Timbers)

As seen in the videos, this rivalry is characterized by the work of passionate fans months before the derby. These avid fans live to be part of this social tribe that is so engaging and connecting that it forms the lifestyles of these fans and thus the revenue framework of the clubs in the sense that this is highly influenced by past and current decisions in relations to these groups of enthusiastic supporters. This affects stadium atmosphere, e.g. 30-40 volunteers from the Timbers Army meet prior to the match and make things work and the preparation of the tifo starts months before actual derby. As one avid fan expresses, “You give birth to this living piece of art that is going to last two minutes” but in my world these fans also give birth and add life to the passion of football and in the end it becomes a vibrant breathing place for football business. The same fan adds that “We cannot play the game; all we can do is to create the best atmosphere and for us this is how we win the game”. So, this explains why the passion of fan culture guides resolutions about stadium capacity, stadium design, season tickets inventory, ticket price groupings and dynamic pricing options.


Fan satisfaction is a multiplex experience that is influenced by the dramatic and exciting aspects of the game. Roger Levesque is an ex Seattle Sounders player who became hated among Timbers’ fans for his celebration of a goal imitating a tree (Timbers symbolism) that was chopped. People found an emotional connection to Levesque and whether that was positive or negative it added value and helped to articulate the derby. Symbolism like this is important in building the passionate fan texture in sports. The Timbers Army is all about charity and that is another ingredient, which helps to build the omnipresent emotional equity through which football clubs live. To account for the complex structure of fan satisfaction, consider elements like winning-on-the-pitch performances, access to sporting staff (i.e. players and coaches), balanced ticket prices, comprehensive experiential fan offerings and the value of game promotions. Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have scored high in terms of building emotional equity locally and thus benefit from a strong home market.




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